As killer-shark movies go, 47 Meters Down didn’t exactly make anyone forget Deep Blue Sea (much less Jaws), but it did at least take place 47 meters down—a depth that actually factored into the story. That title becomes irrelevant, except as a dubious branding tool, in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, an even less inspired sequel that ticks off the key boxes—Mexico, young women, sharks—but otherwise has no direct narrative connection to the original. Replacing Mandy Moore and Claire Holt with a new quartet (half-composed of movie stars’ daughters), Uncaged deposits them in a wholly different scenario that basically amounts to a rehash of Neil Marshall’s The Descent, except underwater. If you like your woman-eating sharks blind and forever jamming their snouts into the narrow crevice of a cave, this is the movie for you.
You’ll have to wait about half an hour for the chomping to start, though, as there’s plenty of bland, formulaic setup to endure first. (Like the original, Uncaged was written by Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera, with the former doubling as director for both films.) We quickly learn that there’s no love lost between stepsisters Mia (Sophie Nélisse, from The Book Thief) and Sasha (Corinne Foxx, daughter of Jamie), in part because Sasha doesn’t bother to protect Mia from the mean girls at school who bully her for no apparent reason. In a half-hearted effort to atone, Sasha invites Mia to tag along when she and two friends, Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone, daughter of guess who?), skip a class outing to go scuba-diving into a submerged Mayan city that their dad (John Corbett) recently discovered. How many meters down are these spooky, cavernous ruins? Not important. What is important: SHARKS!!!
What made 47 Meters Down marginally interesting, or at least novel, was how much attention it devoted to the logistics of its characters’ predicament. To some extent, the danger of being eaten was incidental. Uncaged dispenses with those niceties and just serves up a lot of flailing limbs and mask-muffled shrieking, plus Descent-style suspense sequences in which someone either gets temporarily stuck in a tight space or has to remain extremely still so as not to alert the blind carnivore to her presence. There’s never much doubt about who’s going to wind up as shark chow, since the cardboard discord between Mia and Sasha demands a climactic bonding moment; the film throws in a few generic dudes (working in another part of the submerged city) for additional carnage, and also makes one character such a selfish idiot that her inevitable demise feels almost deserved. At least she has a personality, which is more than can be said for any of the others—especially Mia, our ostensible heroine, in whom Nélisse never locates anything very specific. She’s a shrinking violet from an after-school special until circumstances force her to transform into a badass.
Roberts has been spending a lot of time in the water lately: Between the two 47 Meters films, he directed The Strangers: Prey At Night, which features a memorably nightmarish sequence set in a swimming pool. He has a good eye for combining beauty and horror, demonstrated here via a superb opening-credits sequence that toys with our expectations. The submerged Mayan city doesn’t play to his strengths, though—which he seems to know, as early dialogue notes the danger of silt being kicked up from the ocean floor and making everything murky. Sure enough, this is a visually unappealing movie, greenish and brackish; it’s a relief when the gang briefly finds their way to the surface, and a drag when they realize there’s no way to climb out and they’ll have to dive again. (Even less impressive is the depiction of a fierce underwater current, which vaguely resembles the Star Wars hyperspace effect.) Uncaged improves on the first film only with its ending: This one boasts a modestly effective twist rather than a truly moronic one. Encouraging, but not nearly enough to justify a third trip down this 47-meter well.