When someone in a film says, “it’s going to be the best time ever!” you know they’re in for a nightmare – even (especially?) if they’re in an idyllic Mexican holiday resort where all the beautiful people cavort.
The ‘wine doubling as blood’ prologue in a swimming pool sets us up for a Jaws-like scare-athon. Pretty Lisa (Mandy Moore) allows her equally pretty sister Kate (Claire Holt) finagle her into a thrill-seeking escapade. They agree to venture into a shark cage together. They’re winched beneath the surface of the water. (Note: This is supposed to be fun, folks.)
Why are they doing it? So Lisa will have photos to show her ex-boyfriend, Stewart, who’s just dumped her. The idea is that he’ll be impressed by her bravado and take her back. It makes sense, right? “Hey, you went down with the sharks! I’ve just realised I still love you!”
Stewart left Lisa because she wasn’t as interesting – or brave – as Kate. But when things go wrong in the cage and they end up, you guessed it, 47 metres below the sea, will Kate show us she’s just as plucky as Kate? Will she find her ‘true grit’?
Yessir, behind all the nautical frights and parading sharks this is an empowerment yarn. Which is a pity, because it gets in the way of the drama. It makes us feel (cringe, cringe) we’re watching yet another ‘message’ movie.
That said, any film which manages to hold our attention for 129 minutes of mainly underwater footage has to be respected. Mind you, I could have done without the relationship chatter between the girls as they hover between life and death. (Would you be analysing your character if you were stranded in a ginormous lobster pot at the bottom of the ocean, terrified out of your wits as you wondered if the sharks were going to gobble you up before rescue divers arrived?)
I could also have done without the fantasy sequence (Spoiler alert! Oxygen deprivation can cause hallucinations!) which dupes us into thinking things are even more dramatic than they are.
But this is still value for money. Holt exerts a quiet power while Moore, looking like a young Geena Davis (good face for screaming – check out The Fly) manages to go from a presumptuous “we’re gonna be all right!” (famous last words) to “we’re gonna die!” in almost the same sentence.
Johannes Roberts directs with as much derivativeness as you’d expect from a ‘genre’ movie. He owes Steven Spielberg a pint the next time he sees him. In the end you feel he could have done a bit more with the plot. (Like making the organisers of the escapade sadists who break the winch on purpose? Or having Kate as the ‘other woman’ who steals Stewart from Lisa?). But as a straight-up adventure flick, it does what it says on the tin.
I’ll never take breathing for granted again.