This post contains spoilers.
In an earlier post (April 10, 2019) I wrote about Jaws (1975), The Shallows (2016) and The Meg (2018). Since then I have analysed 47 Meters Down (2017) and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019), two more shark vs. humans movies. They merit discussion because a worrying escalation has occurred. Women in particular should be paying attention to the escalating misogyny in these movies. These five can all be considered horror movies, and they were all directed by men. There are similarities between them, but in terms of what they have to offer female viewers they were not created equal.
Jaws boasts just one named female character that appears throughout—Lorraine Gary as Ellen Brody, the lead male’s wife—and she makes it out alive. She is never in any danger, never hunted by a shark. Just one woman (Susan Backlinie) is chased by a shark in open water and killed and this scene is short. The Shallows, too, boasts just one significant female character (Blake Lively) but here she is the only character that appears throughout and the story revolves around her being relentlessly hunted by a shark while she is stuck on a rock in the ocean. So Gary fares better than Lively. In The Meg there are four significant female characters, and three of them make it out alive. It is lighter than The Shallows and much less agonizing to watch. 47 Meters Down (2017), released the year after The Shallows, has not one but two women trapped in open water, terrified of being killed by a shark (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt). Instead of being trapped on a rock they are trapped in an underwater cage in the ocean. One of the two is killed by a shark—in front of her sister—and the second barely makes it out alive. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, released two years later, has not two but four females trapped underwater (in a very dark cave), terrified of being killed by a shark. Two of the four are killed by a shark (one ripped apart by two sharks) and the other two just barely make it out alive, after having each been grabbed by the waist by a great white shark. Of the five shark movies it is the most disturbing and misogynistic.
Whereas the director of Jaws (Steven Spielberg) lingered more on the male characters’ terror the directors of The Shallows, 47 Meters Down and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged (Jaume Collet-Serra for the former and Johannes Roberts for the two latter) lingered very little on their male characters’ terror. Their males, who play very small parts, are killed quickly and there is minimal focus on their terrified expressions. Their female characters’ terror, on the other hand, receives much attention for the lion’s share of their movie. It is also noteworthy that whereas the terrified females in The Shallows and 47 Meters Down are young women the terrified females in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged are teenage girls still in high school. They whimper, shriek, scream, cry… They are chased repeatedly, the camera focusing again and again on their bare legs. There are close-ups of their screaming faces and slow motion shots of their agonies. It would seem that Johannes Roberts took some kind of sick pleasure in their terror. Female viewers may find it torturous to watch. I certainly found it unenjoyable. Which brings me to this question: who did/would find this enjoyable? Who gets enjoyment out of seeing teenage girls sexualized (e.g. they sunbathe in bikinis), terrified and killed? One group comes to mind: men who consume child pornography.
It is a slim consolation that female characters get to act heroically in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged. The girls’ terror begins somewhere around the 30-35-minute mark and continues until the last 30 seconds or so of the movie. So for well over half of the movie female viewers are shown terrified girls, and after all that all we get is less than one peaceful minute at the very end. I would like to believe that this is not a frightening trend, that rather it is a coincidence, only observable in shark vs. humans movies. The trouble is that I have analysed over 750 films spanning a century of traditional cinema and I have observed an escalating misogyny elsewhere in film, perhaps most obviously in the horror genre. Women should take note of this. Misogyny on the big screen bodes ill for women. Also, if you’re in the mood for a woman in open water movie I recommend Adrift (2018); it has the most to offer female viewers.
Copyright © 2021 Alline Cormier