At the beginning of “47 Meters Down: Uncaged,” a quartet of young women are given some pretty good advice before going out to sea: “Don’t get eaten by a shark.” It’s advice, as you might expect, not all take.
Which of the four makes it out alive fuels this absolutely satisfying sequel to “47 Meters Down,” this time with a new cast and set in some ancient underwater labyrinthine tunnels in Mexico. Forty-four years after “Jaws,” there’s still a shark thriller that makes your heart pound.
Director and co-writer Johannes Roberts returns to dangerous waters after the surprising success of his “47 Meters Down” in 2017, which was made for just $5 million and earned $62 million. That one starred Claire Holt and Mandy Moore as sisters whose shark cage diving experience in Mexico, shall we say, did not go as planned. Sorry, again, Mexican tourism industry. (Not to rub salt in the wounds, much of it was filmed in the Dominican Republic anyway.)
Four young actresses — half with famous parents — have jumped into the aqua this time: Sophie Nélisse, Corinne Foxx (daughter of Jamie), Brianne Tju and Sistine Stallone (daughter of Sylvester). There’s a “Mean Girls”-like vibe to the setup and none of the actresses are given enough to become three-dimensional, but at least their chatter isn’t about boys. The film manages to pass the Bechdel Test, unless the sharks are male.
In terms of plot, like its predecessor, “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” is pretty tidy: Our quartet of high school students — including feuding step-sisters — foolishly go exploring in a submerged Mayan city that they are unaware contains — you guessed it — sharks. Massive blind sharks. Massive blind sharks that are hungry.
Roberts — who with Ernest Riera co-wrote both films — follows a similar slow wind-up, including echoing opening scenes, and is a little too fond of showing our heroines cavorting in bikinis. But once submerged, he has intense skill combining light, water, bubbles and shadow. We sometimes see sharks before our heroines do, but they still sneak up on us, even though we know they’re coming.
The dialogue may be banal — “This place is insane, right?” and “We can’t give up!” — yet there is an unpredictability to Roberts’ action sequences, both nodding to the conventions of shark thrillers and subverting them. (No sharks were harmed making the film — they’re all computer-generated.)
There are little in-jokes throughout. In a film set in Mayan tunnels, we hear a song by Aztec Camera. The girls all attend the Modine International School for Girls, a play on Matthew Modine, who played the boat owner in the first film. The tossing of buckets of chum in the second film is a callback to the use of it in the first.
Roberts has clearly been given a bigger budget and it shows in the nicely realized submerged city the poor young women must navigate. He’s saddled with a terrible film title — 47 meters was the depth of the ocean floor in the first film — but none of that matters once the air tanks and masks go on. He’s like one of his sharks: Shaky on land but a master in the water.