Entire family: No
2016, 89 min., Color
Dimension Films / Anchor Bay Entertainment
Not Rated (would be PG for drinking and frightening situations)
Aspect ratio: anamorphic widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Two woman vs. shark movies were released this past year, and neither of them comes close to the sheer terror of that first toothy blockbuster, Jaws. Of the two, The Shallows is slightly superior, but they both fail to achieve the same simmering first act as Spielberg’s original, and the pay-off is equally slight by comparison.
In the Deep’s big claim to fame is that the majority of the film was shot underwater—the first full-length feature to accomplish that feat. The underwater filming does give this direct-to-video film a sense of authenticity that’s a welcome antidote to a cliché-filled opening that couldn’t be any slower moving if the cameraman had only focused on the sea lapping against the sand. Two sisters are on vacation in Mexico, one is less adventurous, they talk, they kill time, we all kill time until those sisters, Lisa (Mandy Moore, Red Band Society) and Kate (Claire Holt, The Originals), find themselves trapped at the bottom of the sea when a cable breaks and their shark-cage adventure goes awry.
Originally titled 47 Meters Down, it’s 127 Hours without the backstory and Cast Away underwater without the volleyball—which is to say that with the focus solely on two trapped characters and the narrative arena minimalized, the burden falls on the writers and the actors’ abilities to carry the film. They try, but director Johannes Roberts seems to specialize in modern-day B movies and made-for-TV films, and this one feels like something you’d see on television (it seems to have aired on Starz). The opening is so slow and mindless that can’t wait for them to get in the water. Once that happens you get POV filming that makes you feel as if you’re right there in the cage with them—so much so that it might make some viewers claustrophobic. The filmmakers also manage a credible tension.
But one big problem with the all-underwater filming is that once the cage hits bottom, the visibility isn’t the greatest. Pictured left is the cage in open water, but down below it’s dark, it’s murky, and there are too many scenes where all you can see are shapes and different brightly colored lights. If you watch this with kids they may complain, “I can’t see, was that the shark?” Oh, there are frightening moments when you DO see the shark and plainly enough, but too much of this underwater drama is obscured—though it helps if you watch it at night and turn off all the lights.
Matthew Modine also appears aboard ship, but unlike the minor characters in Jaws, he and the rest of the supporting cast seem to exist as necessary plot devices and nothing more. There are implied relationships and also a slight sexual tension that borders on the lecherous, but none of it is developed or seems to matter. As I said, In the Deep is all about what happens underwater.
The two sisters have less than an hour of oxygen in their tanks to figure a way to get to the surface, past the Great White Sharks that are on the prowl. Some viewers will be fine with the murky darkness. After all, horror films are predicated on a simple premise: keep people from seeing the whole monster until the “money shot.” Lovers of the genre will hang on, hoping for a big payoff. Others will feel caged themselves and want out.
If you want to watch this one, I recommend that you rent or buy the Blu-ray rather than the DVD. You’ll need and appreciate all the visual sharpness you can get.
Language: A few very mild curse words and that’s it
Sex: Just implied lechery and flirtations
Violence: Nothing here that older children can’t see
Adult situations: Drinking, flirtation, and underwater peril
Takeaway: Hardcore lovers of shark films may like this, but I’m guessing more casual viewers will be turned off by the slow opening and the underwater murkiness