‘47 Meters Down: Uncaged’ Treads in Shallow Water

Director Johannes Roberts follows up his surprise 2017 shark-attack hit “47 Meters Down” with a lackluster and by-the-numbers sequel. “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” focuses on stepsisters, Sasha (Corinne Fox) and Mia (Sophie Nélisse), who attend an international girls school in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. They’re having trouble getting along so archaeologist papa Grant (John Corbett), who has just discovered a labyrinth of underwater caves, suggests they take a glass-bottom boat tour to see great white sharks in their natural habitat, so they can bond.

Of course, they ditch that idea to go with friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone) to go to a hidden pool in the middle of the jungle, and which just happens to be the back entrance to the caverns their father has just unearthed. Naturally, there is a ton of scuba gear floating on a raft awaiting the arrival of archaeologists. And, naturally, the girls take this as a sign to dive down to the caves, only to discover that they are actually catacombs. Bookish Mia explains that they were built by the Mayans as burial caves to hide from invading conquistadors, and rising sea levels have put them all underwater. They’re not the only ones who have found the place: blind sharks, navigating just by sound, are there and they are hungry.

It’s a silly and hard-to-swallow premise, and Roberts doesn’t sell it either as the hard thriller he seems to think it is or the camp fest it could be. The original was a taut, fairly believable thriller about two friends fighting for their lives underwater, and while it would never live up to the likes of “Jaws,” it also wasn’t trying to. It knew what it was and had a good time with it, and audiences were into it, helping it gross $44 million on a $5.5 million budget in the United States alone. In the ’90s, “Uncaged” would be a direct-to-DVD sequel to what was already a B movie dressed up as an A movie. Roberts did the same with “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” the sequel to Brian Bertino’s unrelenting “The Strangers.”

There appears to be no connection to the original aside from the name, and the girls aren’t even 47 meters under. It borrows heavily from better films, like “Turistas,” using air pockets to breathe inside the tunnels once their air starts running out, and “The Descent,” with female divers, a tunnel collapse trapping our heroines, claustrophobia and panic once fear sets in, and blind killers in the sharks a la the crawlers in Neil Marshall’s spelunking classic.

What’s more, aside from the two lead characters, who are drawn only in the broadest strokes themselves, we hardly get to know any of the other characters, an aspersion cast at many slasher films. But there are good examples of the genre where that isn’t true, such as “Halloween,” “Scream,” and the aforementioned “The Descent.” Some of the supporting characters have hardly any screen time at all and then bam. They’re gone. This makes for zero suspense and zero surprises of who will survive.

The actors are saddled with banal dialogue, and they speak it with no conviction. They’re bland to the point of being interchangeable despite how they look, and that becomes an even bigger problem once they’re underwater and they’re wearing masks. And considering the sharks can detect them by sound, they sure are loud even in the quietest moments.

Another issue is that, while gore is not necessary to make an effective horror film, cutting away just before something happens doesn’t work either unless the editing is just right. “Uncaged” often cuts just as something is about to happen, dampening its effectiveness

That said, the cinematography by Mark Silk is so crisp and so vibrant, you can practically feel the lushness of the jungle. He makes the underwater caverns spooky, and there are some shocking moments and genuine scares, things audiences won’t see coming. They would just land a little harder if Roberts’ story and direction were stronger.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged” opens Aug. 16 in theaters nationwide.