de facto film reviews 2.5 stars

The story of 2017’s “47 Meters Down” is an interesting one to say the least. Initially titled “In the Deep”, the original film was set straight to the DVD bin from the Weinstein Company and many DVD’s had actually been mailed to critics and Wal-Mart’s across the country. At the very last minute however, studio boss, Byron Allen, swooped in and bought the rights to the Shark thriller in hopes of distributing it as the inaugural release for his new studio, the egregiously named, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures. A year later, in the summer of 2017, the film was released and shattered industry expectations, pulling in $11.2 million on opening weekend and went on to become a sleeper hit, ending up with $44.3 million in the states. With that success, a sequel was imminent and with director Johannes Roberts and co-writer Ernest Riera both returning, fans should expect the same level of quality.

Whereas the first film was a tension-filled, minimalist thriller with an occasional silly moment or two; “Uncaged” is a claustrophobic slasher set with Sharks as your masked killer that gives way to a cavalcade of silliness. Taking a more anthology route, “Uncaged” introduces a new set of characters, a new location, yet the same cold-blooded predators. When a group of friends that includes two at-odds step sisters decide to go explore an underwater Mayan city off the coast of Mexico, they find themselves trapped and struggling to survive when a tunnel gives out and they realize the city is also home to a group of hungry sharks.

Starring a mostly fresh faced cast that includes Sophia Nelisse (“The Book Thief”), Corinne Foxx (daughter of Jamie), Brianne Tju and Sistine Stallone (daughter of Sylvester), the main four girls aren’t given much depth, but are still likable enough leads. Adding some gravitas to the cast is John Corbett and Nia Long, who bring their usual charismatic selves. Although the actors are often saddled with truly banal dialogue, they all do a fine job in their respective roles.

Director Johannes Roberts knows how to stage an effective set piece. His underrated slasher sequel, last year’s “The Strangers: Prey at Night”, gave us one of the more memorable sequences that year set at a neon-lit pool, that felt like a short film in of itself. Roberts makes excellent use of minimal lighting, small depth of field and the fear of what lurks within the pitch-black void of the sea. Taking particular inspiration from 2006’s “The Descent”, Roberts allows the claustrophobia of the setting to slowly creep in so when danger has actually arrived, you feel as helpless as our leads. The tight spaces and stellar underwater cinematography add an immense amount of tension. Roberts excels in the unpredictability of the situation. Often, our expectations of a given scene are subverted with an unexpected jump scare or plot twist. The aforementioned jump scares, while boarding on excessive are almost always effective. A jump scare — as we’ve seen time and time again — can be used so cheaply and with no creativity. What Roberts does well though, is heighten the scene by scaring the audience with something that is actually scary… the sharks. The sharks in this film, while rather cartoonish, are nevertheless a menacing force to be reckoned with. With CG effects that work for the most part, the creatures are intimidating from their first frame to their last.

Despite the PG-13 rating, “Uncaged” gets away with quite a surprising amount of carnage. Some deaths remain your typical individual getting pulled underwater with only a hint of red flooding the waters, but others take a vicious, shockingly brutal turn. Characters get ripped to pieces and chomped on with a unflinching eye that feels refreshing, given the genre and the rating.

So for the majority of “Uncaged”, all goes rather according to plan. It’s a tense, scary and gripping ride, but nothing too memorable. That is until the batshit lunacy known as the finale of this film kicks in. Not a single wide-release film this decade has ever come close to reminding me of the notoriously schlock-filled “Jaws: The Revenge”, until now. The final 15 minutes of “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” is so ridiculous and so loony, I was cackling with sheer amazement at just how bonkers the film got. Whether Roberts is actually aware of the sheer lunacy in the finale is up for debate, but I found it to be an unexpected change of pace. Your mileage for extreme ridiculousness may vary, but I was more than welcoming of its insanity.

“47 Meters Down: Uncaged” doesn’t exceed the quality of the first film, or even something like “Piranha 3D'” or last months “Crawl”. On its own merit, however, this is a crazed trip that’s still worth exploring, perhaps with some friends and a drink or two.