’47 Meters Down’ is one haunting, harrowing shark thriller

The new underwater thriller 47 Meters Down is not your typical shark movie...

The new underwater thriller 47 Meters Down is not your typical shark movie.

It’s not a campy diversion like “Deep Blue Sea” (which will forever remain infamous for one of the all-time great death scenes, featuring Samuel L. Jackson), nor is it a glossy summer lark, like 1977’s “The Deep,” which starred a young Lou Gossett Jr. and Jacqueline Bissett in a now iconic see-through white T-shirt.

Instead, this movie is a relentless, claustrophobic and harrowing portrayal of what it’s like being stalked by bloodthirsty killers under the sea, practically in real time.

The film stars “This Is Us” actress and former pop singer Mandy Moore as a woman who has recently been dumped for being too “boring” (an insult that becomes increasingly ironic as the film plays out), vacationing in Mexico with her friend (Claire Holt) in hopes of moving on and maybe even indulging in a little rebound romance abroad.

So far, so standard. But when the ladies decide to go diving with sharks with a bunch of relative strangers, that’s when things take a turn, and the movie plunges into darkness, literally.

As the title suggests, our heroes wind up stranded and vulnerable at the bottom of the ocean, with their oxygen running out and very real-looking lethal sharks nipping at their heels.

Instead of giving the audiences or the characters breathing room, the movie keeps nearly the rest of its action underwater, establishing an atmosphere of uncanny dread and high-stakes drama.

Adding to the ominous tension is the palpable feeling that what you’re watching feels utterly plausible, and therefore that much more terrifying. Essentially, “47 Meters Down” does for the water what the Oscar-winning film “Gravity” did for space  it’ll make you never want to go there.

In this post-“Sharknado” era, these kinds of movies have become a total genre in their own right, alternating between films that deal seriously with the threat of a shark attack  which are exceedingly rare in real life  and those that seem content to be audience-pleasing gore-fests.

“47 Meters Down” isn’t either. Once tragedy strikes, the movie doesn’t pause for laughs, and the filmmakers are more interested in paying special attention to the faces of the actors on screen instead of making the sharks the star of the show.

In that way, the film does owe a debt to the grand-daddy of all shark films  1975’s “Jaws.” That movie, which essentially invented the summer movie blockbuster over forty years ago, was really a smart, thoughtful character study disguised as an action film. Sure, it was exciting as hell, but the real sparks were between the wildly divergent three leading characters.

Unbeknownst to most film fans at the time was the fact that that production was infamously plagued by disasters and set-backs. The biggest problem? The movie’s biggest draw  its killer great white shark, which was mechanical  kept breaking down. So much so that Spielberg was forced to shoot around it as much as possible.

Hence the legendary shark fin shot, which we’ve all come to instantly recognize as a sign of terror to come.

This film doesn’t have the same technical limitations or constraints because of modern special effects, but it nevertheless takes the time to really invest the audience’s loyalty in Moore, who has to spend much of the movie in a state of unimaginable horror.

Her previously placid facade is broken, and she has to reach emotional depths that she hasn’t displayed before in any of her previous work.

That said, this doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t deliver on its promise of bloody chills. When the sharks go into attack mode, it’ll be hard to stay in your seat, let alone stay quiet. And because the film has taken great pains to ratchet up the tension in a fairly convincing way, when these sharks bite  you feel it.

Does 47 Meters Down have a deeper statement to make? No. But has any shark movie?

What it does is perform a service for summer movie audiences  it puts them in a nightmare scenario for just under 90 minutes but provides the catharsis of letting them walk away unscathed. It provides the kind of escapism so many Americans are craving right now, but with a story lacking in superficiality and the supernatural.

In other words, 47 Meters Down is a movie with real teeth.

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