Summer 2019’s incredibly claustrophobic B-movie creature features are all about doubling — or even tripling — down on danger. First, there was Crawl, which combined giant hungry alligators with a Category 5 hurricane (and trapped its protagonist inside a creepy crawl space). And now we have 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, in which Johannes Roberts and his co-writer, Ernest Riera, decided that the sharks of their previous film, 47 Meters Down (2017), weren’t enough of a threat to unsuspecting teenaged tourists. This time, the pair add a sunken Mayan city inside a narrow labyrinthine cave to the mix that would be hard enough to escape without a pack of highly evolved great white sharks on your tail.
Uncaged — which is not narratively connected to its predecessor, nor is it nearly as smart as The Descent, a film it clearly tries to ape — opens with a bit of inessential backstory on the stepsisters it’s about to endanger. Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse plays Mia, a loner who is constantly being picked on by the resident mean girls at her private international school in the Yucatan, where she and her family have recently moved so her dad, Grant (John Corbett), can continue his archaeological research. Her stepsister, Sasha (Corinne Foxx — daughter of Jamie), doesn’t want to be associated with her, and stands by in silence with her friends as Mia gets pushed into a pool on the last day of school. Their parents’ solution to bringing the pair closer together? Forcing them to go on a shark tour aboard a glass-bottomed boat.
Sasha’s friends, Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone — nope, no nepotism to see here, folks), have other plans, however: They intercept the girls and entice them with the promise of a less-touristy adventure. Their destination: a secret swimming hole that connects to a system of underground caves that house ancient ruins. Alexa — the most experienced scuba diver in the group — has explored the area before, and she’s sure there’s nothing to worry about: They’ll simply swim one lap around the cave’s first chamber and then head back to their starting point. Sure, nothing to worry about, especially when Nicole defies Alexa’s instructions and swims deeper and deeper into the ruins, causing a rockslide that blocks them from turning back.
Not that any of the characters populating this suspiciously white-washed vision of the Yucatan (seriously, where are the Latinos?) are especially bright or distinguishable from one another, especially once they begin their Poseidon Adventure–style quest to reach the surface. It’s a wonder any of them make it more than halfway through the film, given the almost comical number of obstacles they’re forced to contend with — their diminishing air supply, the deadly currents, the fact that they can’t see more than a few feet in front of their flashlight in the pitch-black water, and the way they find themselves without a way to pull themselves out of the shark-infested water once they do reach the surface…
Still, I can’t say I don’t at least slightly recommend 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, and that’s largely due to the contributions of cinematographer Mark Silk, a longtime specialist in underwater camerawork. Silk brings a distinctive visual flourish to the proceedings from the opening frames to the title sequence and beyond (even though some of the above-ground visual FX leave much to be desired). I’ll be thinking about a particular sequence that effectively meshes eerie, murky shots of the submerged ruins with The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” until at least next summer, and sticking to the swimming pool for the foreseeable future.