47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
As I mentioned in my review of Sea Fever last year, I am a sucker for any horror film involving the ocean and its inhabitants. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with sharks, reading endless books about them. As I got older, that expanded to watching any horror film that offered so much as a glimpse of a dorsal fin. While I did eventually outgrow this obsession, thanks in no small part to how awful most of these films are, that overexcitable shark nerd is still in me somewhere. And, every now and then, I indulge him.
47 Metres Down has been on my list for a while, but I’d somehow managed to miss that it was on Netflix until I saw a message about it leaving the service in a few weeks. That finally prodded me to catch up with it, and I’m very glad I did.
47 Metres Down is currently available on Netflix in the UK.
Following a painful breakup, Lisa joins her sister Kate on holiday at a coastal resort in Mexico. Lisa’s ex-boyfriend described her as boring, which has led her to some painful self-reflection and a new determination to take risks.
An opportunity for risk arrives in the form of an invitation to go swimming with great white sharks, led by a fly-by-night tour guide. Everything about his operation is a red flag, from his willingness to ignore safety regulations to the rusty condition of his diving cage. Unlike Kate, Lisa has no experience of scuba diving, but she lets herself be convinced that her perfectly valid concerns are just the kind of dull behaviour that drove her boyfriend away.
Of course, all this leads to disaster. After spotting a few huge sharks, the two women are plunged to the seabed when the winch holding up their cage fails. Now, with oxygen running out and hungry sharks circling, Lisa and Kate are forced to take increasingly desperate measures to survive until help arrives.
The first jump scare in 47 Metres Down was seeing a credit for Harvey Weinstein in the opening titles.
There is an almost fairy tale quality to the foreshadowing in this film. The first act is at least 50% ignored warnings. In the wrong hands, this could be wearisome, but the script does an excellent job of making us understand why Lisa in particular would choose to take such stupid risks. The result is a sense of dread rather than frustration.
For a film marketed on its connection to sharks, it actually uses them sparingly. Once Lisa and Kate are on the sea bed, the water is dark and visibility severely limited. By making the sharks a largely unseen presence, they become all the more terrifying. There is the constant fear that one might be just out of sight at any moment.
When the sharks do appear, however, they look amazing. From the almost lazy swim-bys of the initial encounters to the sudden lunging attacks in the gloom, they never appear less than perfectly real.
My only real complaint about 47 Metres Down is that some of the sisters’ dialogue is muffled by their scuba equipment, making it difficult to follow. I had to resort to subtitles for a few key lines, although this was barely a distraction.
While there may not be any ghouls or ghosts at play here, 47 Metres Down ticks all the boxes for a horror film in my opinion. I’d go so far as to call it one of the finest examples of survival horror I’ve seen.
Once we’ve moved past their initial carelessness, Lisa and Kate do everything right in their fight for survival. With the two facing serious injuries, dwindling oxygen, nitrogen narcosis, confinement, and gloomy water filled with predators, every moment following their accident is almost unbearably perilous. We always feel like we’re heading into further disaster as the sisters are forced to make increasingly desperate choices, ratcheting up the tension to breaking point. The cruelty of the ending does nothing to let us off the hook.
I often say that I don’t really get scared by horror films any more. While I can’t say that 47 Metres Down really frightened me, it was so tense that I had to take a break at one point to let myself relax. What I expected to be a lightweight bit of fun turned out to be an astonishingly effective horror film. Definitely worth a watch if you like horror with teeth, preferably rows of them.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Dark August (USA, 1976)
- Huesera: The Bone Woman (Mexico/Peru, 2022)
- The Banishing (UK, 2020)
- Brooklyn 45 (USA, 2023)
- Bloody Muscle Bodybuilder in Hell (Japan, 1995)
- Pyewacket (Canada, 2017)
- Grave Robbers (Mexico, 1989)
- You Might Be The Killer (USA, 2018)
- No One Will Save You (USA, 2023)
- The Sect (Italy, 1991)
- Last Night in Soho (UK, 2021)
- Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (Spain, 2017)
- 47 Metres Down (UK/USA, 2017)
- The Oskars Fantasy (Philippines, 2022)
- In the Earth (UK, 2021)
- Something in the Dirt (USA, 2022)
- Blood Flower (Malaysia, 2023)
- Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (Canada, 1987)
- Older Gods (UK, 2023)
- Come to Daddy (New Zealand, 2020)
- Shrew’s Nest (Spain, 2014)
- Totally Killer (USA, 2023)
- The Premonition (USA, 1976)
- Murder Me, Monster (Argentina, 2018)
- The Gruesome Twosome (USA, 1967)
- Talk to Me (Australia, 2023)
- Gaia (South Africa, 2021)
- Demon (Poland, 2015)
- Juju Stories (Nigeria, 2022)
- El Conde (Chile, 2023)
- The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Hong Kong/UK, 1974)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!