You may experience a scratching noise during screenings of this film. Don’t be alarmed, it’s only the sound of viewers drawing a line through ‘Swimming with Sharks’ on their bucket list – or quite possibly, somebody from the Mexican tourist board composing a letter of protest.
Lisa (Mandy Moore) has been unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, just weeks before the two of them were due to jet off for a dream holiday in Mexico. Trying to make the best of things, Lisa offers the place to her younger, more outgoing sister, Kate (Claire Holt). Kate’s method of getting Lisa over this obvious downer is to take her out dancing, encouraging her to snog a local hottie and then to enlist her on a ‘swimming with sharks’ experience in a rusty, leaking old tub, with a crew that take absolutely no notice of the fact that Lisa has never scuba dived before. Health and safety? Pah! This is Mexico! Who bothers with such outmoded ideas? They even practice the outlawed art of ‘chumming’ – throwing rotting fish into the water to attract the bigger sharks.
Needless to say, it works and the sisters are soon in a ramshackle metal cage, surrounded by giant fish. But, after an ancient piece of machinery fails, they promptly find themselves at the bottom of the ocean (47 meters down, obvs) with their oxygen fast running out and some (entirely convincing) CGI sharks prowling around in search of sustenance. These scenes are undeniably effective, generating almost unbearable levels of tension and making viewers feel every bit as breathless as the sisters.
Rather less seaworthy, however, are the passages where the young women discuss their relationship (as you tend to when surrounded by sharks) and the way they feel obliged to keep reminding each other of how long they have left before their oxygen runs out. Worse still is the presence of jobbing actor, Matthew Modine as Captain Taylor, (he might just as well have been called Captain Exposition). Unseen for most of the film, he’s required to keep warning the women, via a dodgy radio link, that divers who take on too much oxygen or attempt to surface too quickly, can suffer from ‘the bends’. This may cause hallucinations, he tells them, repeatedly. Just in case we’re in any doubt about some of the things that occur in later scenes.
The ending is divisive. A gentleman sitting next to us expressed his views in no uncertain terms, (“That was a load of shit!”), but I actually liked the fact that it tries for something less straightforward than is usual in movies of this genre. Director Johannes Roberts definitely has a flair for terrorising audiences, so it will be interesting to see where he goes next. (Hopefully somewhere that comes equipped with a better scriptwriter).
While this film has some evident flaws, there’s no denying the enduring appeal of sharks vs humans. But if you’re one of those intrepid people who are planning this kind of holiday experience in the near future, I’d give this one a wide berth.