“Aqua Horror,” specifically shark cinema, continues to surface title upon title after a sunken period. Between The Shallows, The Meg, and lesser-budgeted splashes such as Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down, fin flicks have surged back into summer’s movie night focus. 47 Meters Down isn’t the biggest fish of those three, but impresses based on Roberts’ subversion of expectations by hooking razor-sharp psychological tortures on a line bated with catastrophic cage diving. You’d probably assume 47 Meters Down: Uncaged to be more of the same, correct? Follow formula, scare audiences, cash check?
Reader, Uncaged is a stealth slasher featuring blind Great Whites that’s more slasher flick than half of 1980’s horror output. One step away from the shark, Jason Voorhees mask over snout, *somehow* holding a machete.
Roberts and co-writer Ernest Riera shift from Mexico to Brazil, where scuba dude Grant (John Corbett) is mapping submerged Mayan temples. Daughters Mia (Sophie Nélisse) and Sasha (Corinne Foxx), urged by friends Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone) and Alexa (Brianne Tju), find themselves trapped in the same watery ruins. Why? Because a Great White collapses their entrance during an ill-advised and uninstructed cave dive. With escape on their minds and air tanks running low, the girls must locate Grant and flee the labyrinth burial grounds before suffocating, or worse, becoming a sharky snack.
When I say Uncaged represents architectural narratives of slasher cinema, your exaggerated imagination isn’t far from reality. Mind you; these Great Whites cannot see because evolution has adapted to darkness by removing unnecessary features aka eyesight. STILL, victims are picked off by sharks who SNEAK UP BEHIND DIVERS.
One scene in particular features Grant’s assistant, back turned to massive Mr. Chompy who glides closer and closer. What a wonderfully goofy viewpoint as Roberts’ deep sea demon channels the underwater equivalent of an oversold tip-toe Bugs Bunny profile in Looney Tunes, the diver meanwhile wholly oblivious. Shark attack films typically favor oceanic darkness and suspenseful lunges, but Roberts torpedoes into a structure that’s oftentimes cornballish and gifts viewers chewed corpses.
Unpacking the above paragraph assures that Uncaged is never as scary as its predecessor. Mia and company flee from computer designed predators of the SYFY variety as dull grey “supersharks” appear pale as ghosts and dully monochromatic. Roberts deserves credit for charting a new course with his franchise continuation, but some of you will despise what never becomes Jaws 2 meets The Descent. It’s predictable, oddly paced at times (kills range from off-camera to airtight devastation), and far pulpier than the legitimate nautical nightmare that is 47 Meters Down.
Callbacks attempt to retain what made Roberts’ first film a success, thinking of red-lit cinematography bursts on an otherwise black screen (visionless conditions). Mandy Moore’s sparked flare in 47 Meters Down, a flashing emergency beacon in Uncaged. As sharks materialize from nowhere and whiz past swimmers who scream bloody murder, you’ll still jump and tense up. It’s just the lingering dread that’s missing from Uncaged, which recycles “shark stuck in too small an opening” bits and tries to outshine Samuel L. Jackson’s Deep Blue Sea demise. Shots could be reused and there’s no telling the difference (in terms of teenage swimmers paddling through tight corridors while a shark’s head clogs their exit). Warrior statues and stone pillars only characterize cultural richness for so long before silt clouds blur vision in favor of peek-a-boo sharks.
Uncaged features the kin of Sylvester Stallone and Jamie Foxx, which will dominate chatter despite Sophie Nélisse’s leading status. In any case, actors muffle dialogue through scuba equipment and only breathe one emotion: fear. For good reason! Except Roberts can’t escape a motivationally cliched opening that leads four adventurous females into a shark’s den. An attempt at step-sister bonding adds dramatic heft to Mia and Sasha’s survival dependencies, but it’s never substantial enough to register above spooky shark beats of the hungriest order. You’re here for the close encounters of the finned kind, and that’s what Roberts delivers. Nothing less, but certainly nothing more.
In the end, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged lags behind Johannes Roberts’ 2017 alpha. Scenes project Deep Blue Sea by way of Turistas vibes but to a weaker degree. Weak enough to ruin what aquatic horror fun one might otherwise have with slasher villain sharks hunting “wrong ancient flooded city, wrong time” amateur explorers? Maybe a harder sell for fans who demand Jaws-level quality in their H2-Oh-No watches. The rest who don’t mind movies like Shark Night 3D or other sillier excuses for dorsal damnation though might be drawn to the claustrophobic and primal cinematic chum that Roberts throws down.
47 Meters Down is still the alpha of this franchise pack, but Uncaged's stealth "slasher but with sharks" structure is an approved and entertaining surprise.