This isn’t your typical shark movie. It’s been forty years since Jaws kept people out of the water, and by now, we’ve learned what to expect from summer thrillers that take place in dangerous offshore territories. There have been a few noteworthy standouts and fun little additions over the years, such as Chris Kentis’ suspenseful Open Water, in which art mimics the real-life terrors of scuba diving couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan, and the more recent and more light-hearted Blake Lively-led The Shallows. However, whereas the majority of killer shark movies take place mainly on the ocean’s surface, Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down stands out due to the majority of the film existing almost entirely underwater.
“When we both initially read the script, it was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a movie like this before that takes place primarily underwater. In that sense, we were kind of guinea pigs. Because no one knew, like, what effects is eight weeks every day underwater going to have,” explains Mandy Moore. “I don’t think either of us realized how physically taxing it was going to be, just all that time underwater. Even just like the littlest movements, or the seemingly simple days. We would get out at lunchtime, and I’m not usually a napper, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was so exhausted.”
In the film, Lisa (Mandy Moore) takes her sister Kate (Claire Holt) on the trip of a lifetime, down to Mexico’s beautiful blue waters and sandy white beaches, in an attempt to bounce back from a bad break up. Lisa confides in her sister that the real reason why her boyfriend left her is because she wasn’t giving him the excitement he craved in life, and Kate takes it as a personal mission to prove him wrong. Within a few short days, the girls are strapped up in scuba gear, sailing out to sea on a small boat with two new handsome friends, and getting ready to step foot into a rickety cage that will plummet them 20 meters down beneath the surface that they can go swimming with giant sharks. It all seems to be going perfectly – the cute boys, the new exhilarating adventure, the possible Instagram-worthy vacay pictures – that is, until the cage that’s holding the girls breaks, plunging them 47 meters down, where they become trapped at the bottom of the ocean, with only an hour’s worth of oxygen left in their tanks, and hungry predators swimming fiercely just overhead.
“I think this movie sort of goes above just being a shark movie,” says Mandy Moore regarding her interest in the film. “What initially attracted both of us to this was, and what I find far more terrifying is the prospect and premise of drowning, of running out of air and it’s a race against the clock. Like, that to me, ugh, is like my greatest fear. That’s far more terrifying than sharks, which are terrifying enough. And I love that this film, it’s about a confluence all those things. It is just an absolute tragedy. It is a horrible confluence of events that lands these girls at the bottom of the ocean, trapped in a cage with no control and very little way to make it to the surface and survive.”
Most movies require their actors to go through rehearsals, and although the specific methods vary from filmmaker to filmmaker, but when it came time to prepare to film 47 Meters Down, the girls had to go through quite unusual methods in order to get ready to shoot underwater scenes, fully submerged, for up to over an hour at a time.
“Those masks were like 20 pounds and it would hurt your neck, and the BCD and the tank were like another 40 pounds,” remembers Moore about her experience on set. “It was cumbersome. We would have like a little mock sort of rickety wooden cage and we would go in and just do these bare-bones rehearsals and sort of figure out a bit of choreography. But then you then down there and it all goes out the window. It just completely changes and you end up doing what feels right.”
Apparently, Holt and Moore were the only ones that could communicate with other when they had their masks on, so they had to rely heavily on each other for safety measures, as well as for direction.
“We had the majority of our face covered by this mask,” emphasizes Holt. “We didn’t know what would read, we didn’t know how big we had to be or whether it was too much, too little, and I think as an actor you’re always conscious of measuring your performance and having peaks and valleys. We really relied on each other with that. You know, ‘Was that too much? Did I overdo that, or could you read that?’ It was really difficult.”
When asked if there were any moments during filming all of those terrifying underwater scenes which came to be a little too close for comfort, Moore and Holt recalled Holt’s character Kate having to take her mask and BCD off for minutes at a time to try to escape the cage. Holt just hoped she could hold her breath long enough to pull off a convincing performance, while simultaneously remaining calm enough not to drown.
“She was such a badass about it,” says Moore as she recalls her co-star Holt’s bravery. “She was like, ‘Oh you need it again? Oh, one more time?’ (shrugs) But we’re 20 feet underwater, and she literally took off her mask and she took off her BCD, and then swims through the thing and I hand it to her, and it’s like … And you did that so many times, and then you have to be able to get your mask back on and clear it in order to breathe again, and so … I don’t know how you did that. I was really freaked out for you.”
“I was pretty nervous at the beginning when I thought about doing that,” reminisces Holt, wide-eyed. “But we just had really great people around us and I knew that I would always be safe, and I knew that someone may be there to stick a regulator in my mouth if I couldn’t clear my mask, or if I was running out of air.”
Although Holt claims she felt completely taken care of by director Roberts and crew, when asked if she’d be getting back into diving gear again anytime soon, Holt immediately responded with a laugh and a resounding no.
“Hell no!” Holt says enthusiastically with a happy grin. “I think I’ve done enough diving to last a lifetime, but never say never.”