In recent years, there’s been an ecological movement to protect sharks and, while we understand that sharks are an important part of the ecosystem, they are downright terrifying. Their size, those teeth and their ability to smell a single drop of blood from a mile away all make them the ocean’s apex predator and the stuff of nightmares. And the best horror movies.
In 47 Meters Down, Mandy Moore (This is Us) and Claire Holt (The Originals) accidentally become shark bait for massive great whites when they decide to go cage diving in Mexico. When the cable on their steel cage breaks, they are trapped 154 feet underwater with dwindling air tanks and plenty of hungry sharks.
If you think this movie is just a ripoff of Jaws, think again. Not only will this film have you screaming in the theater, it is the first film to take place almost entirely underwater. We sat down with Moore and Holt to find out what that was like.
“We looked like bedraggled wet rats at the end,” said Moore with a laugh.
Though the actresses did receive SCUBA training and went for dives off the coast of California, the majority of the film was shot at the Underwater Studio in Essex, England. Yes, in a water tank. Though the water was heated, crumbled broccoli was used to simulate algae and, well, bathroom breaks weren’t exactly an option. After a few weeks, the water had its own unique stench.
Though a tank may not sound as scary as shooting in the ocean, being underwater all day – every day – in a broccoli-urine stew, took its toll on Moore and Holt.
“It was exhausting. It was such an intense feat. We really had to rely on each other to get through it because we were like crash test dummies — no one had ever attempted to shoot a film like this before. We didn’t know if it would be safe or if the camera could read our expressions or how to even act underwater,” said Holt.
The bulk of their performances played out in their eyes, due to the masks they were wearing.
“We had to rely on each other and be really honest about whether or not we thought our performances were believable and authentic. It was so different. Just being underwater changes your physicality, and it was a struggle. But we managed, I think,” said Holt.
The only upside of getting waterlogged every day? No time spent on hair and makeup.
“We would show up in the morning with wet hair, slap on some lip balm and hair conditioner and get our wet suits on,” said Moore.
Because this film diligently exploits every underwater fear anyone’s had, we asked if making this film gave either actress nightmares. Holt said, “We slept so hard, we didn’t dream!”
“Exactly,” said Moore. “It takes every ounce of energy to be underwater for any substantial amount of time.”
Moore admits they were both scared at the beginning of the shoot. “There were moments when we’d just be sitting quietly in the cage, and my thoughts would start to wander. I’d think, ‘Wow, I’m underwater right now. What if my mask fills up with water out of nowhere? What if there’s a hole in the hose connected to the tank?’ My brain would just start to play tricks on me.”
Eventually, the actresses began to feel pretty safe, considering they were only 20 feet down with safety divers hovering. They now say every soggy moment was worth it.
“It’s the perfect summer thriller, real escapist entertainment,” said Moore. “But it’s a movie about survival, so it’s about so much more than escaping sharks. There is layer after layer of seemingly insurmountable problems that these girls are facing. I think it’s interesting to see the underwater perspective that hasn’t really been shown before on screen.”
And with all the talk about gender inequality in Hollywood, 47 Meters Down is a prime example of a film starring two women who don’t rely on a man to rescue them.
“We’re both really proud to be part of a film about two women helping each other survive. It’s empowering. I wish it wasn’t such an anomaly, but we’re happy to represent these empowered heroines,” said Moore.
Moore is optimistic that Hollywood is becoming more female-friendly.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction. Simply having a conversation and an ongoing dialogue about it is the way to perpetuate change and break down gender norms. Can there be more female-centric films out there with female directors and writers? Absolutely! I certainly don’t think we’ve reached peak saturation by any means.”
47 Meters Down opens Friday, June 16.