The underwater levels are the hardest …
In the classic [adult swim] series Sealab 2021 episode “Cavemen”, Stormy Waters, the crew’s resident idiot, tricks resident genius Dr. Quinn into diving to a cave of mystery (later to be revealed to be just some stick figure drawings Stormy scrawled on a rock face to impress Quinn). They are soon cornered by a angry great white shark and a desperate battle for survival begins.
This is basically the plot for 47 Meters Down Uncaged down, but without the jokes or constant angry screams of Brett Bulter’s Dr. Quinn berating Stormy.
I actually used this episode as an explanation for the original 47 Meters Down (checkout that review HERE), but it’s really more of the trope here (and I would that I have saved that comparison), and Uncaged seeks to do for cave diving what the original did for shark cage diving. Which is to say get most everything wrong for dramatic effect. Which is a shame, because there is a lot of elements that could be mined for an effective horror film. Cave diving is dangerous, spooky and thrilling — three cinematic elements required for terror, and the cenotes and underwater cave systems of the Yucatan were indeed used as a place of ritual sacrifice by the indigenous empires that flourished while Europeans were dropping dead of the Black Death.
So what goes wrong with Uncaged? In the first film, there was the claustrophobic feel of a sunken shark cage and a distance between the bottom and the safety of the surface that might as well been between the Earth to the Moon. Here… it’s hard to establish the eerie stillness of an underwater cave when the visual effects require murkiness to pull off. Where in the first one, you had two actors trapped below, and in much of it, just Mandy Moore’s Lisa; in this movie, you’ve got four protagonists that are fairly interchangeable, and it’s not until the end do we really get a sense of who’s who. Where the characterizations were razor thin in the first one, here some characters simply show up to delay the inevitable maulings and deaths (at one point, a character tells us we’ll see him later, and I wanted to yell at the screen the classic Sterling Archer-ism “OK, Freddy Foreshadowing!”) You’ll get the usual jump scares that PG-13 films deliver, and there’s a couple scenes that are references to the classic shark terror film Deep Blue Sea that I probably should have saw coming, and weird soundtrack choices (The Carpenter’s “We’ve Only Just Begun”, used to scary effect in the John Cusak/Samuel L. Jackson horror film 1408 is just confusing here. I’m scratching my head trying to figure out why Roxette’s 1989 hit “The Look” was used — not complaining, but as soon as I finish this, I’m taking a deep dive to see if there was a deeper meaning that I missed.
What sets the original 47 Meters Down apart from other modern shark terror films (The Shallows, The Meg, the Sharknado series) was the reveal at the end, and that I think is going to be the hook of the series — the Shyamalanian twist ending. And it’s in the last 10 minutes or so of the movie that it finally accepts it’s weird, gory premise and really sticks it to our heroes. I wish director Johannes Roberts had basically taken the elements that he seemed to want to go with at the beginning (supernatural horror, mixed with sharks) and played it up to the ending which could really have been a nice “OH SNAP” moment for the audience — but the ending is still effective and fun.
There are also other missed opportunities — I was half-expecting to see a return of Matthew Modine’s character from the first film at the end of Uncaged, which would have been very organic (although I wonder if that was a budgetary concern — although there is a callback at the beginning, I’m guessing as an inside joke) and I think the PG-13 rating pulls back on the gore.
Still, I’m curious as to where they take the next film — with a budget of $12 million, I expect this will be as profitable as the first one and we’ll get a sequel, so if Johannes Roberts is listening… the logical progression is setting the third movie in an Ice Diving scenario, and changing the sharks from great whites (they really should have been BULL sharks in this one) to Greenland sharks.
The script would practically write itself
P.S. — Oh, and from a shark conservationist perspective: Sharks don’t do this. Like, any of it. So don’t worry.)
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