This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Matthew Modine

Director: Johannes Roberts

Running Time: 85 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Getting the Ocean All Messy with Human Blood

Release Date: June 16, 2017

The premise of 47 Meters Down – two cage diving sisters must escape shark-infested water after falling to the ocean floor – sounds exactly like that of last year’s The Shallows, except underwater instead of on a rock. There is certainly enough room on the big screen for multiple bloodthirsty chompers. Jaws is the granddaddy that they must all bow down to, but some of its imitators have actually bit nearly as hard. But could it be possible to have two good ones in a row, released almost exactly one year apart, and so similar in their particulars (tightly contained single location, young female protagonists, Mexican resort setting)?

It turns out that even though 47 Meters Down has several sharks to The Shallows’ one, it is more about the terror of claustrophobia. With Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate’s (Claire Holt) oxygen tanks quickly running out, the threat of drowning is much more urgent. If you are easily disoriented, it would be wise to skip this one. The cinematography is only as coherent as necessary to illustrate how dire the girls’ situation is. The rest is a blur of pitch black and bubbles. Sure, the sharks do not make this any easier to bear, but the predicament would be plenty overwhelming without them.

This variety of horror can almost skate by on economy of premise, but a strong central performance is also essential. As the resident competent amateur, Holt plays her part straightforwardly. But the bigger narrative burden falls to Moore, who is notably miscast. To be fair, though, the role as written would be difficult for just about anyone to play. It mostly requires her to be hysterically crying over a life-risking predicament she never wanted to participate in in the first place. There is a reason why the best of this genre usually features the protagonists attempting (and usually succeeding) to do what they never thought possible.

47 Meters Down wins me over, at least partially, with its ending that feels ambiguous though it is not really ambiguous; it is clear what has happened, though it is inconclusive what the message is. This conclusion takes a few risks, but it also walks back on some of them. It is edgy, bittersweet, strange, and disorienting, but probably a bit more disorienting than it means to be.

47 Meters Down is Recommended If You Like: The Shallows, Facing Your Own Claustrophobia

Grade: 3 out of 5 Bends