Opening with plenty of bland expository dialogue such as “She’s not my sister!,” and “You guys have to look out for each other,” there aren’t a lot of narrative surprises in “47 Meters Down: Uncaged.” The toothless shark thriller is the sequel to the 2017 Mandy Moore vehicle, which was saved at the last minute from a straight-to-VOD release to find modest success at the box office. In Johannes Roberts’ follow-up, he has doubled the number of bikini-clad heroines from two to four, and released them from the confines of a faulty shark cage for the more claustrophobic climes of deep sea caves. (Hence the title.)
Rather than opening up possibilities, “uncaging” the action has only sucked the air out of any dramatic tension the original was able to muster — and the oxygen tank is running dangerously low. Taking too long to reach its first bloody thrill, the movie opens with about twenty minutes of predictable setup, introducing a cliched fraught relationship between its central step-sisters, who have just moved with their parents (John Corbett and Nia Long) to a new town somewhere in the Yucatán Peninsula.
There’s Mia (Sophie Nélisse), a loner who is teased at school, and Sasha (Corinne Foxx), a cool girl who runs with two mischief-loving locals, Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone). Convincing Mia to ditch a class field trip to see Great Whites on a glass-bottomed boat, the group sneak off to a remote cove that happens to be fully stocked with scuba gear.
In an example of the level of dialogue that scores far too much of the action, Mia warns her not-my-sister: “We should take the path,” to which Sasha replies, “Screw the path.” After a scene that basically amounts to a watery pillow fight, the camera ogling their bikini-clad bodies splashing and giggling in the radiant blue waters, the crew commandeers the unlocked oxygen tanks to explore the deep sea caves left behind by the Mayans. Unfortunately, the ancient underwater burial sites never lead to anything spooky (other than blind carnivorous sharks), which seems a glaring missed opportunity to have snuck in more otherworldly terrors.
Once down below, the action becomes difficult to follow, and Roberts relies far too heavily on goofy dialogue (“At least I have an ass!”) and mindless shrieking to distinguish the thinly-sketched characters. It’s also hard to see what’s going on, which Roberts justifies with a quick aside about the dangers of silt making the water murky. As the risk-taker, it’s Nicole’s shenanigans that initially endanger the group by knocking over some ruins, and she’s so annoying that her bloody comeuppance can’t come soon enough.
Though the characters have hardly enough defining traits to hang a hat on, Roberts and co-screenwriter Ernest Rieria do deserve some credit for making the men utterly incompetent. Each time the girls run into one of their father’s male diving assistants, naturally hoping they might be safe from the jaws of their blind shark predator, he is instantly gobbled up. There are no male savior narratives here, and the only death that comes close to producing gasps supports this philosophy. (Second place goes to the one person who slowly asphyxiates rather than getting snapped up in the shark’s jaws.)
Mia seems much more concerned about her stepsister than her father, proving that tragedy really does bring people together. The semi-sisters band together by the finale in an unsatisfying conclusion that feels more like the repeated revving and stalling of a boat engine than a swelling tide of a climax. Mia gets her moment to show up the mean girls from school, but it feels entirely out of place and devoid of meaning.
Without the star power of Mandy Moore and the relative sophistication of the single location predicament, “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” is just the last gasp of a shark saga that didn’t need to come up for air.
Entertainment Studios releases “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” in theaters on Friday, August 16.