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47 Meters Down: Uncaged is a cave diving horror movie that used a lot of real underwater footage
Shortly before 47 Meters Down premiered in 2017, it seemed impossible to director Johannes Roberts that there would ever be a sequel. The intimate shark thriller had already been dumped by one production company, and although Entertainment Studios picked it up and saved it from a straight-to-video release, the early tracking numbers looked abysmal. But 47 Meters Down opened much better than expected — hardly a blockbuster, but more than enough to make it a sleeper summer hit and worthy of a sequel.
"Although I never assumed there would be a sequel, I knew the idea for a sequel way early on," Roberts tells SYFY WIRE. "I trained to be a cave diver while I was doing the first movie. On the weekends I would go with a line producer in the Dominican Republic and we would do some cave diving, which is crazy stuff. It's very dangerous, and it's incredible when you dive through these caves.
"Then, when the idea of a sequel came around, I thought, 'Well, why don't we put sharks in a cave and see how that works?'" Roberts explains.
That's exactly the setup for 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (sadly not titled 48 Meters Down), which hit theaters over the weekend. The first movie trapped Mandy Moore and Claire Holt in a shark cage on the ocean floor, while the sequel traps a quartet of scuba-diving young women in maze-like caverns and a sunken Aztec city with precious little oxygen. And, oh, yeah, there are giant, milky-white sharks hunting them down.
"I wanted to create a roller coaster ride for the audience," Roberts says. "I sort of consciously wasn't trying to ground this in the way I did the first movie."
Even though Uncaged literally takes place underground, Roberts is right. Compared to the first 47 Meters, the sequel is intentionally over-the-top, as there are mutant cave sharks, screaming fish, deadly vortexes, and a much higher body count. But while the cave-diving premise of Uncaged isn't as "realistic" as the original's shark cage mishap, the claustrophobia and pressure of the setting add a visceral level of horror — not unlike another famous cave movie, The Descent.
"The idea of doing The Descent underwater was definitely the pitch of this movie," Roberts says. "I remember watching The Descent when it came out and feeling very uncomfortable with all the spelunking. That just made me, much more than the monsters, feel very uncomfortable."
Cave diving is extremely dangerous, as it takes all the risks of normal spelunking and combines them with all the risks of scuba diving, with a whole bunch of new dangers thrown in as well. Naturally, Uncaged's stars weren't really diving into caves while shooting the film, but they did get a taste of the experience.
"We really were going down in our scuba gear and looking at these caves and looking at what they had built," star Corinne Foxx tells SYFY WIRE, explaining that the production team built the submerged caverns and sunken city passageways inside massive tanks. "A lot of what you see in the film is really us going down for the day and exploring this new tunnel or new cave they put in. A lot of that stuff is very real."
"We were on sets, and we were never in any actual real danger, but it's really a job that blows my mind," co-star Sophie Nélisse adds. "I talked a lot to the divers on set, and all the stories they had to tell were really overwhelming."
Neither Nélisse nor Foxx had any scuba experience before Uncaged ("I didn't even really know how to swim before this part," Foxx admits), but they managed to get the hang of it.
"By the end, we were so good at it," Nélisse says. "We could jump in the water and have naps at the bottom of the water, or play hand games, or we'd try to communicate with sign language."
Despite all that comfort, there was an unexpected villain in the water with them. Not the sharks — which were added later via CGI — but a much more realistic terror: a vegetable.
"They put broccoli in the water to make it look murky and have texture," Nélisse explains. "Every morning they dropped these huge bags of broccoli, and it smells absolutely disgusting. It was cooking broccoli in the water every day."
Foxx is not antsy to go diving again. "I basically spent three months underwater," she says. "Once I wrapped, I was like, I hope I don't go diving ever again." (She is, however, happy that she can give her dad, Jamie Foxx, "a pointer or two" about underwater acting should he ever star in a shark movie. The closest he's come is being attacked by electric eels in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.)
Nélisse would dive again, but in a place without sharks, which she finds scarier than the caves.
"Claustrophobia you can't die of," she explains. "In our situation, you can, because we're running out of air, but I've never been really scared of small spaces. Sharks have always been a fear of mine."
Roberts, though, has the other take.
"Oh, the claustrophobia for sure," he says. "The thought of just being trapped under. Having to do some of the things the girls do where you're squeezing through little gaps — ooh, makes me quite queasy. Whereas the sharks, they're the fun monster."