At a certain point in the summer, I need to see a shark movie. It’s a physical, seasonal longing like the one you might have for lemonade, soft-serve, or digging toes into sand. Call it my summer cocktail: blue sky, open sea, vulnerable divers, a gray leviathan emerging out of the murky deep. Combine and stir.
Obviously, this is a legacy of Jaws, which was released in June of 1975 and became Hollywood’s first summer blockbuster. I loved that movie as much as the next child of the ’80s, and I still remember the excruciating terror of its final moments: Roy Scheider aslant on the sinking mast of his boat, desperately sighting the approaching fin with his rifle.
No shark movie has bettered Jaws in the intervening decades, and that’s sort of the point. Shark movies are by and large ... not good. We can wonder why that is, or we can marvel at Steven Spielberg conjuring an enduring classic from what is, in fact, a ludicrous, defenestrate-your-disbelief genre. Shark attacks do happen in real life, of course, but their incidence is vanishingly small, and they surely never go down the way they do on the big screen, with big fish on homicidal rampages, launching at their human prey like heat-seeking missiles.
But that is what I, in fact, want to see. Every summer, if you please. And so far this summer has been a drought. True, we had a swarm of killer crocodiles (in last month’s surprise hit Crawl), but that’s hardly a substitute. And actually last summer’s shark movie, The Meg, was so dreadful that it didn’t scratch the itch.
Which is why I’m here to heap probably much too much praise on this weekend’s popcorn delight, 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. I took myself to a critic’s screening of this film last week. (There were two of us in the audience.) And I had a fantastic time. Are you aware that Uncaged is a sequel to 2017’s 47 Meters Down? I certainly am! I still remember the summer evening I took my wife, Liz, to a multiplex to see the latter film, which starred Mandy Moore and Claire Holt as tourists on a recreational cage-dive avec sharks in Mexico. The cage becomes detached from boat, sinks. Sharks swarm. Liz has never screamed so loud.
Uncaged’s mood is more campy (but it has thrills, too) and it lacks Moore, who brought (God bless her) a hint of prestige to the first film. The sequel instead stars Sistine Rose Stallone (daughter of Sylvester) and Corinne Foxx (daughter of Jamie) as half-sisters who decide to take an impromptu, very much unsupervised dive with two girlfriends into a underwater cave. We are once again in Mexican waters and the cave is a labyrinthine Mayan city, which is being mapped by our heroines’ archeologist father. One would not expect to find Great Whites in such a lightless, sealed-off place.
And yet! Our divers are soon menaced by, get this, blind killer sharks. (Which have eaten what over the years??) The best sequences involve kicked-up clouds of silt, frantically swimming girls, and finned beasts materializing like ghosts. Dialogue is practically nonexistent. The camera work is frenetic (the director is Johannes Roberts, who also made the original). The kills are unpredictably timed and delightful. At one point, for reasons I still don’t understand, there is suddenly a stout current sweeping through the Mayan ruins, which propels our sisters via tunnels and crevasses into the actual ocean, where they hug and cheer and foolishly think they are safe from sharks. They are not. This is one of those undeniably bad movies that remains unaccountably enjoyable to the bloody, bitter end. Does it compare to those hallowed classics of this genre? Deep Blue Sea? Open Water? The Reef? The Shallows? No, but it’s mid-August, people. Labor Day is almost here. I will take what I can get.
Originally Appeared on Vogue