When 47 Meters Down opened back in 2017, there were virtually no expectations for the Mandy Moore/Claire Holt film. Dimension originally planned to dump the film direct-to-video, but the idea was scrapped when the film rights were sold to Entertainment Studios, who seized the opportunity to capitalize on the success of 2016’s The Shallows. The decision proved to be a shrewd business move: 47 Meters Down gobbled up $62M worldwide on a $5M budget.
Two years later, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, the in-name-only sequel, arrives in theatres hoping to take another bite out of the box office. It’s the second Aquatic Horror film of the summer, after Alexandre Aja’s well-reviewed gators-in-a-hurricane film Crawl stormed away with nearly $40M since its July debut.
Uncaged is a quietly confident sequel that knows exactly which beats to hit a second time, without directly aping its predecessor and failing to offer audiences something new. The first film derived scares from the story of sisters stranded at the bottom of the ocean, almost totally exposed save for a shark cage, threatened by predatory sharks and a limited supply of air.
The sequel keeps the sharks and the ticking clock of limited air, but adopts a more claustrophobic approach by locking its heroines in a confined space. In place of two heroines, Uncaged takes the conventional sequel approach by increasing the number of bodies (and therefore the body count) by focusing on a quartet of girls.
At the center of the narrative are sisters-by-marriage, Mia (Sophie Nélisse) and Sasha (Corinne Foxx), who recently moved to Mexico with their parents, Grant (John Corbett) and Jennifer (Nia Long). The girls share little in common: Mia is quiet, introverted and intellectual, whereas Sasha is outgoing, popular and uninterested in her new stepsister. The gulf between the two is a fairly routine (read: obvious) opportunity to introduce conflict that will tested and overcome by the dangers to come, but thankfully returning screenwriters Ernest Riera and Johannes Roberts (who also directs, coming off last year’s underrated sequel The Strangers: Prey At Night) don’t spend too long on the girls’ inter-personal issues.
The action kicks off when the pair skip out of a shark sightseeing boat trip organized by their father so that they can spend the day swimming in a lagoon with Sasha’s besties, Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone) and Alexa (Brianne Tju). When Alexa reveals that their location is actually the entrance to the giant underwater city that Grant is mapping, Nicole goads them into a quick cave-diving trip to see the ruins. Everyone agrees to limit their adventure to the first chamber, but things don’t go to plan when a small cave-in closes off the entrance, forcing the girls to seek out Grant’s assistants, Ben (Davi Santos) and Grant (Khylin Rhambo), in the hopes of finding an alternative exit.
All the girls have to do is remain calm, ration their air supply and avoid the giant predatory shark that is hunting them.
Roberts’ experience on the first film serves him well in the sequel. In addition to knowing how to stage underwater scares, the director understands how to balance character development with action. The first act is mostly character drama, and the successive two-thirds of the film are full-blown shark action. While the central quartet isn’t as fully developed as the sisters from the first film, there’s still enough character work early on to distinguish each girl and help audiences identify with them.
Once the cave-in occurs, Uncaged implicitly understands the need to barrel ahead and keep raising the stakes. The film is a fully-fledged action film for the majority of its run-time, with only the occasional (brief) reprieve for both the characters and the audience to catch their breath before the next set-piece.
This is where the underwater city – and its accompanying claustrophobia – pay off. Uncaged has a great visual aesthetic that recalls The Descent: the white granite underwater rooms have a low ceiling and the passages are suitably tight. Plus: they’re frequently populated with faceless human statues that loom out of the darkness or provide cover for the menacing shark. Thanks to the cave-in, early in the film the visibility is quite poor, a callback to the murkiness of the water in the first film. This kind of visual signature helps tie the sequel to its predecessor, up to and including a sequence – the film’s best – that capitalizes on the terror of being exposed in open water and the use of red light to ward off danger.
More than the first film, however, Uncaged is adept at finding new and novel ways to thrill. There is nearly always something new to exploit for tension – be it air pockets, underwater music, carabiner-cords or the pull of the ocean. This makes for a variety of exciting sequences for characters to survive, though Uncaged cleverly doesn’t rely exclusively on its ancient predator to kill off its cast. One of the most horrifying deaths in the film barely even involves a shark.
If there is one criticism, it is that the film loses a bit of steam heading into the climax, which is a touch formulaic, even going so far as to use a trope straight out of Deep Blue Sea’s finale. The film’s villain also doesn’t look as polished in the open, resulting in a climax that leans too heavily on CGI scares.
Still, this is a small qualm considering how effective the rest of the film is. With a significantly higher body count, effective scares and memorable set pieces, 47 Meter Down: Uncaged is a more-than-worthy sequel that confirms the continuing appeal of Aquatic Horror. Keep these watery scares coming!