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Movie Review: '47 Meters Down' Plumbs the Depths of Quality


Published June 21, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.

Guess how long the Bechdel test has been a thing. Thirty-two years. That's right: Alison Bechdel, Vermont's favorite MacArthur Fellow cartoonist/award-winning memoirist/toast of Broadway and Vermont cartoonist laureate, first delineated the concept in a 1985 strip of "Dykes to Watch Out For." While Bechdel magnanimously credits her friend Liz Wallace with the concept, she drew the strip that planted it in the popular consciousness. And it's a pip. The punch line, delivered by one of the strip's two female characters, is "Last movie I was able to see was Alien..." The sci-fi classic had been released six years earlier.

The test shouldn't be all that hard to pass. A movie merely has to 1. have at least two female characters who 2. talk to each other 3. about something besides a man. That's it. We've come a long way as a culture since the mid-1980s, right? You might be surprised.

According to a 2014 study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, of 120 films made worldwide between 2010 and 2013, only 23 percent had a female protagonist. Only 7 percent were directed by women. A 2016 analysis of the screenplays for more than 2,000 movies found that a female character did most of the talking in just 22 percent. I'm not sure that represents a giant leap since the era when silent star Mary Pickford cofounded and ran both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and United Artists.

It gets worse. 47 Meters Down just happened.

Any incremental gains civilization may have made have been wiped out, obliterated without a trace by the fact of this film's existence. It's an affront. An atrocity. Not to mention the most reprehensible misuse of fish since SeaWorld got into the orca game.

Etch these names in your memory: director Johannes Roberts and screenwriter Ernest Riera. If you ever see them on the street, you'll want to point at them and scream their names the way the old woman screamed "Szell! Szell!" at Sir Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. These guys haven't merely made an incredibly crappy, pointless and stupid movie. They've set the cause of show-biz gender parity back to a point prior to the Mesolithic Period.

Mandy Moore and Claire Holt play two of the dumbest female characters ever created, sisters who take a Mexican vacation because of a breakup. Moore's character is devastated because her ex, Stewart, decided she's boring. Holt's character uses that insecurity to get her to come along on the world's least attractive tourist attraction, a chance to dangle in a rusty, ridiculously rickety shark cage surrounded by great whites. You can guess how well that works out.

But, before the dilapidated old boat's dilapidated old winch inevitably snaps, sending the dilapidated old cage plummeting to the ocean floor, the two women talk to each other. And talk. About Stewart. And only Stewart. You know — how, when Stewart sees the Instagrams of Moore diving on the wild side, he'll go nuts and, like, really want her back. They're so annoying, insipid and Bechdel-test-flunking, you practically root for the computer-generated predators.

I get it. Summer's here. It's the law. The multiplex must offer a variation on Jaws. In the annals of fin cinema, you've got valiant efforts like Open Water and nice tries like The Shallows. And then you've got deep-sea debris like 47 Meters Down. I'll say one thing for this instantly forgettable display of idiocy: After watching it, you know precisely how low Hollywood will go.

The original print version of this article was headlined "47 Meters Down"