For aquatic horror fans, this has been a great summer. Not only did we get an alligator based horror film, but Johannes Roberts is back with 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED, a follow up to his hugely successful 2017 film, 47 Meters Down. Set in Mexico, UNCAGED centers around four teenage girls who go cave diving to visit an underwater Mayan Temple only to find themselves stalked and hunted by a slew of Great White Sharks.
For the release of the film, I had the esteemed pleasure of speaking with co-writer/director Johannes Roberts about UNCAGED. During our chat, we discussed everything from the genesis of the sequel, the use of practical sets, and the challenges faced when filming in a jungle-like location.
It’s great speaking with you again and congratulations on 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED! To start things, can you tell us a little bit about why you decided to come back for round two?
Johannes Roberts: When we did the first movie, the line producer and I learned to cave dive and I was like, “Okay, yeah, this is fucking terrifying” and [it made me] want to do a cave dive movie. When [47 Meters Down] did so well, I was asked to do a sequel and I thought yeah, I got a great idea.
Besides sharks and diminishing oxygen, our characters also face the dangers of a crumbling Mayan temple located underwater. Was that built practically or was it designed with CGI?
Johannes Roberts: There’s almost no CGI in this, outside of the sharks obviously. The whole thing was built [underwater]. What we did had never been done before, it was insane. We had two tanks and we built these enormous – about three stories tall – sets. We didn’t have a lot of money as it was not an expensive movie, but we were doing some really crazy stuff.
Filming in the water is notoriously difficult to do. What were some of the challenges you faced?
Johannes Roberts: The opening was the hardest part. We are doing a jungle movie and I have four girls and a whole team down in the Dominican and you are looking at the weather and it’s just a nightmare. We got really bad weather. It was also really tricky, almost impossible, getting to some of those locations, it was like a Werner Herzog movie. Once we were underwater at the Pinewood set with our team of specialists, it was super cool. Don’t get me wrong, it was fucking tough having four teenage girls do cave diving, it was really dangerous. At times there were 10 people down in one of those tunnels that you can’t see just trying to be there for them. It’s crazy, it’s a whole weird experience.
I don’t know much about cave diving except for what I saw in The Descent. Did the actresses have to go through a lot of training to prepare?
Johannes Roberts: Yeah, they all had to be trained and they had to go through quite a lot. Corinne [Foxx] couldn’t even swim when she started the movie. It was a pretty full-on thing that they had to go through.
Since you brought up Corinne, can we talk a little bit about the casting and what the process was like?
Johannes Roberts: I always wanted to work with Sophie [Nelisse], I really liked her as an actress and had known her from before. During casting we saw loads of people but what I really wanted was an energy that came together. I thought, this is going to be a really tough shoot and I want four people that connect together and that’s really how we did it. We looked at what I thought would be the perfect energy between the four of them and it really worked and I’m really happy.
One of the aspects that I enjoy about your films are the visuals. In this film you had a beautiful color palette that included the sparkling blue water and the greenish algae color along with the pulsating red light. Can you elaborate more on that?
Johannes Roberts: A lot of the movies I work on, particularly the genre I’m in, are kind of one location movies. Even though [this film] has lots of locations, lots of different parts, you are in a cave. I tend to find, as a director and writer, that I want to tell a story with light, otherwise everything is going to look the same. You have to be able to do this, to tell this story, through light. You find different ways like little tricks that sort of heighten the tension and the drama. It ends up explaining what the characters are feeling through different stages of light that go through the movie.
Another signature of yours happens to be the musical choices, which I really picked up on while watching your previous film, The Strangers: Prey at Night. The music in this film is so different than the film’s tone which allows for a very unique juxtaposition. Did you have a lot of input into the musical choices?
Johannes Roberts: I’m always very hands on with the music side of things. tomandandy did the score for [47 Meters Down] and we really wanted something different [for this]. They came out with a great score with all the organs – it was sort of a churchy feel that we found really worked inside the temple. That was sort of the genesis of that. We wanted a bonkers, sort of Italian horror and we just went crazy; I love it (laughs). The cave also needed to have a personality to it. With the source music, I absolutely love doing that stuff which you saw on Prey at Night. This is the only shark movie you’re going to ever see with some of those tracks [used] (laughs). The Carpenter’s track, “We’ve Only Just Begun” is not actually The Carpenter’s version, we found an ever earlier, cool version that sounded so beautiful underwater. I love doing that stuff.
Now that you have directed two shark-based films, would you like to continue going down the route of aquatic horror outside of just sharks?
Johannes Roberts: Yeah, I would love to and was talking with a couple of people about it. Not a lot of people do underwater filming and I love it, I absolutely love it. I love the team that I work with and what happens when people are underwater and how it’s creepy. I’ve got a couple of projects brewing that could well be underwater. I would love to do a ghost story underwater. So yeah, we are talking, it’s just a slow process.
47 METERS DOWN arrives in theaters Friday, August 16, 2019. To read our review of the film, click here.