Directed by: Johannes Roberts
Written by: Johannes Roberts & Ernest Riera
Synopsis: Four teen girls diving in a ruined underwater city quickly learn they’ve entered the territory of the deadliest shark species in the claustrophobic labyrinth of submerged caves.
Starring: Corinne Foxx, Sistine Rose Stallone, Sophie Nélisse, Brianne Tju, Nia Long & John Corbett
Rating: PG-13 (for creature related violence and terror, some bloody images and brief rude gestures)
Runtime: 89 minutes
Studio: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
It’s been 44 years and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is still the quintessential shark movie. Ironically, much of that credit falls on the decision to make all the shark stuff secondary to the characters, particularly the film’s three leads: Brody, Quint and Hooper. Those guys could’ve spent the entire film star gazing off the back of the Orca and we still would’ve eaten it up because we’re so invested in that trio. Give your audience characters they can–forgive the phrase– sink their teeth into and they’ll follow you almost anywhere, hook line and sinker. Unfortunately, even after all these years, subsequent killer shark flicks just don’t seem to get it and after the disappointment of 2017’s 47 Meters Down, I had little faith that its sequel 47 Meters Down: Uncaged could turn things around for me. At least my instincts haven’t let me down.
If you never got around to checking out the first film, don’t worry. The two are merely related by marriage. In other words, while they share a handful of similarities on the surface, underneath Uncaged is a fresh start. This time instead of a cage diving venture gone horribly awry, a group of girlfriends decide to explore a sunken Mayan city beneath the Mexican Yucatan. What could go wrong?
The cast boasts some noteworthy pedigree, including Corinne Foxx, daughter of Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, and Sistine Rose Stallone, daughter of Sly Stallone. However, as flashy as those names might be, the regrettable truth is that they ultimately amount to nothing more than a shiny new coat of paint on an old, dilapidated fishing boat. Not because the performances aren’t solid– Foxx actually turns in some strong work– but because the script from Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera lacks any ambition, resulting in half-baked characterization and embarrassingly generic dialogue.
But what about the scares? This is a horror movie after all. Well, they’re repetitive. Roberts stylishly introduces the sharks with a subtle trick of the light. It’s a neat visual at first, but one which Roberts plays out before the halfway point of his film. The rest of the frights come in the form of predictable jump scares (one involving a screaming fish, if that tells you anything). Moreover, any dread that Roberts does drum up is significantly muted because we don’t really care what happens to these bland, uninteresting characters whom we hardly know.
By far the most egregious aspect of Uncaged is the cinematography. All the underwater scenes are so poorly lit that you may find yourself as I did squinting to make out certain sights. Is it realistic given the setting? Sure. That said, being able to actually see images on screen is the minimum requirement of a film. Worse yet, each girl’s face is framed with a medium close-up, making spatial orientation for most of the film impossible. As if that wasn’t enough, Roberts heavily relies on shaky cam technique to generate tension whenever the magical teleporting shark pops out of the dark. Added up, the cinematography here is in equal measures frustrating and disorienting.
I will give Roberts props for the ways in which he wraps up these largely thrill-less shark thrillers of his. He isn’t afraid to throw his audience for one last exciting loop just before the credits roll and that’s true once again of Uncaged. If only he displayed such inspiration in the first two-and-a-half acts.
Have you had a chance yet to check out 47 Meters Down: Uncaged? If not, is it something you’re even interested in seeing? Why or why not? Swim down to the comments below and let me know your thoughts on this movie!