Interview | Johannes Roberts and That ’47 Meters Down’ Ending

Everybody loves a good shark movie. Heck, everybody seems to love a merely adequate shark movie nowadays. Even rock stupid shark movies are able to find an audience. But a GREAT shark movie? That’s a thing of beauty.

Johannes Roberts has directed, arguably, a great shark movie with 47 Meters Down. The film stars Mandy Moore and Claire Holt as sisters who, while on vacation in Mexico, find their “swimming with sharks” tourist experience going catastrophically wrong. The majority of the film is spent with the two young woman at the bottom of the ocean, trapped in a cage, surrounded by giant, carnivorous monsters with razor-sharp teeth, and no way to escape without getting air bubbles in their brains.

Also: ’47 Meters Down’ Review | What’s Eating Mandy Moore?

It’s one of the intense situations in which you could possibly find yourself. Johannes Roberts uses it as the engine for a great suspense thriller, filled with horrifying imagery of killer sharks and their seemingly infinite aquatic environment. He also builds and builds to one of the most shocking finales of the year, in an ending that’s going to leave everybody talking once the credits role.

Of course, when I got Johannes Roberts on the phone – after he’d already spent a long day shooting the sequel The Strangers 2 – we had to talk about that ending. But before we got into spoiler territory we talked about why 47 Meters Down feels like no other shark movie before it, and why the earlier versions of the screenplay – which featured even more characters stuck underwater – never quite worked.


Crave: Why do you think we keep coming back to shark movies? What do you think the appeal is?

Johannes Roberts: I think it’s definitely that sharks are the closest thing to real monsters, you know? They’re the coolest. It’s why we love them as kids. They’re the dinosaurs of the deep. It just sort of appeals to our primal fear of something coming out of the darkness of the deep, something you can’t reason with. I think it sort of fits into all those very primal fears that we have.

I imagine it must present a particular challenge to you, trying to come up with ways to film sharks and present them as antagonists in your story, that haven’t been done before. Can you tell me about your philosophy on how to make sharks look terrifying?

Actually, do you know what? The whole concept was really more about… the thing I had always thought, which is why we went and did the movie, is no one had gone underwater. No one had brought me into the shark’s world. So in fact it was great. I always felt like anything I did had not really been done before, you know? To spend the whole movie underwater, we could get the sharks to do anything. I was just like, “Fuck, this is great! This is what I want to see in an underwater movie.” Normally it’s just like people bobbing on the surface and you see a fin and then they get pulled under.

So I really had a whole fresh palette to work with, and I think that’s probably why the movie is, for the moment, connecting with people. That hadn’t been done before, really.

One thing you capture really well is the intimacy. It’s a two-person story for so much of it, but then every once in a while you remind us of just how vast and dark the ocean is.


Entertainment Studios

Can you tell me about that contrast? Because I think that’s something that really makes the film work.

The vastness of the ocean and the ability get lost in it, completely disorientating, comes out of… I mean, I did this movie because I’m a diver. A lot of this comes in a sense from experience, you can particularly see where Mandy’s getting lost, it’s just going out into the blue and you don’t know what’s up, down, and it’s just endless. It’s a very frightening thing. I’ve sort of done that, with guides, who have taken me off into the blue so you don’t know, a sort of feeling… no way to place yourself. I just felt that I really wanted to try and capture that, that feeling of just being completely disorientated, deep, deep, deep underwater.

And then the sort of close intimacy of the two characters, yeah, that was a really interesting one. You know, when we came up with the concept – or I came up with the concept – it was like, okay, this is great. It’s a very simple concept and people really engaged with it. And then when Ernest [Riera] and I tried to turn it into a script it kept becoming… like, a body count movie with sharks chomping away. You know, it was silly. It was a weird thing. We just couldn’t get it right. Initially we had like four or five people in the cage, and then we just came up with the idea of bringing it down to the two sisters.

And the intimacy of that came very much after watching Touching the Void, the mountaineering movie, and just seeing how actually it is about those two characters, and that’s what makes it so very terrifying, and their survival journey. You could even take the sharks out of it and it is a very terrifying movie. It’s a very terrifying situation to be in, and it’s about those two and how they deal with it. Yeah, it was quite a challenge to get it to work but I think it really paid off.

Entertainment Studios

I admired the way you structured this. As the movie began I got this impression that we were on a sort of amusement park ride, like when you’re over at Universal Studios and it’s like “Welcome to Jurassic Park!”

Yeah, yeah.

“We’re going to go on a nice ride and everything’s going to be fine,” but you know it’s going to go horribly wrong. You’re building suspense that way. Is that intentional?

Yeah, it is. You’re going on a sort of journey to Hell, and things just get worse and worse. Yeah, I guess it is a rollercoaster in that sense. It’s a very lean movie, you know.

Entertainment Studios


It feels like the film could end in one of three places. 


What sort of conversations did you have with that? Were you tempted to go with any of the other possible endings? 

Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, I had a lot of battles. I had to fight quite hard to do keep that ending, the way we finish it. It’s possible a ballsy way to go. But yeah, I think there were various different ideas along the time, but then I think once Ernest and I hit on the way we took it, it was just like, yeah… it suddenly became so obvious. That’s the way it has to go. Yeah, we really fought with it, fought for it, and yeah.

Were you ever tempted to leave it with Mandy Moore just dead on the bottom of the ocean, after the reveal?

Yes. Yes, I did a version of that, in fact. Shot that with a camera just leaving her, dead, and that was so bleak! I kind of liked it but it was so bleak that we actually [had] give it some upbeat.

A part of me expected there to be some sort of punchline shot, where at the end, it just cuts to her back her apartment and she’s got a million locks on the door and never goes outside again.

[Laughs.] Let’s hope that’s the beginning of 48 Meters Down.


I have to ask, and I know you can’t tell me much about it, but I’m curious why you’re so excited to do The Strangers 2. It seems like a tricky project considering the enigma was such a part of the appeal of the first one.

Yeah, it’s an interesting one. I love the first one. I think it’s a super cool movie. It’s really smartly put together and I think Brian [Bertino] did a really good job of creating a really oddly paced movie. In a good way. You know, people have played with the whole mask thing since then, they haven’t really done that sort of pacing, and set it in a drama, or the feel the first one had. It’s quite a peculiar movie in a really good way.

So it’s a great opportunity to try something a little different, for me. There’s a real grounded drama. It has elements of stuff I’ve done before, like 47 [Meters Down], but you really buy into this family and the journey they’re going through before everything goes horribly wrong. It’s been great to be working with Christina [Hendricks] and the other kids, Bailee [Madison] and Lewis [Pullman], and Martin Henderson. It’s been really, really amazing fun this last week.

But yeah, and then it was a great script and it just had a lot of different elements that I really always wanted to tackle. We play with the truck a lot in this one, and that’s kind of fun. It has a slight Christine feel to it. That’s kind of cool.

The truck, you said?

Yeah, you know, The Strangers’ truck in the first one. That plays quite an iconic role in this.


The Top 20 Scariest Vacation Movies Ever:

Two hapless American backpackers run afoul of a local legend in John Landis's funny, tragic, and very scary werewolf classic.

Photo: Universal Pictures

Kurt Russell's wife is kidnapped on a cross country trip, and he has to do unthinkable things to rescue her. Jonathan Moscow ratchets the tension to impossible levels.

Photo: Paramount

A group of college kids trek to a cabin in the woods and encounter unspeakable horror. You probably think you know where Drew Goddard's movie is going with this. You have no idea.

Photo: Lionsgate

Four men decide to conquer the wilds of Georgia, only to discover their own terrified frailty in John Boorman's brutal, enigmatic survival horror classic.

Photo: Warner Bros.

A group of young women go spelunking, get trapped, and have to delve ever deeper into an unknown cave system in Neil Marshall's claustrophobic, terrifying thriller. Here there be monsters.

Photo: Lionsgate

Shot illegally at Disneyland and Disney World, this distressing nightmare tells the story of a man whose family vacation is undone by paranoia, weakness and - possibly - sinister conspiracies at the happiest place on Earth.

Photo: Film Buff / Cinedigm

Sam Raimi's original, shoestring horror classic still has the power to make you squirm. A group of kids trek to a cabin in the woods, unleash unspeakable demons, and end up cutting each other to pieces. The sequels are slicker and funnier, but the original is still the freakiest.

Photo: New Line Cinema

A home invasion at a posh family lake house unfolds in unexpected ways, challenging what we expect of horror genres, and what horror filmmakers think of their audience. Funny Games is frightening, damning, and bleak as hell.

Photo: Concorde-Castle Rock/Turner

Marie and Alex are visiting Alex's parent's house for the weekend, but when a homicidal maniac invades the house, it's up to Marie to rescue her best friend. What unfolds is a nightmare with an ending that may go five steps too far, but will probably thrill you anyway.

Photo: EuropaCorp

A family road trip goes horribly, disgustingly wrong when their camper is attacked by mutated maniacs in the desert. Wes Craven's film will shock you with its violence, and the questions it raises about mankind's violent nature.

Photo: Vanguard

Leigh Janiak's unsettling thriller stars Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway as newlyweds who, in the midst of their honeymoon, realize something is terribly wrong. Maybe they never really knew one another, or maybe one of them is no longer who they seem. Honeymoon is a creepy, frightening, intimate horror film.

Photo: Magnolia Pictures

American tourists get their comeuppance in Eli Roth's cynical, wicked horror thriller about the world's most perverse vacation destination. It's as mean-spirited as anything you've ever seen, but this time, it works.

Photo: Lionsgate

Steven Spielberg's game-changing blockbuster will make you just as terrified to jump in the ocean as it did back in 1975. A monstrous shark is terrorizing a beach community, but the greedy, cowardly town leaders would rather risk the lives of the tourists than turn down all of their money.

Photo: Universal Pictures

A simple, shocking premise: two scuba divers are accidentally left out in the middle of the ocean, forgotten, starving, dehydrated, and seemingly destined to die. It's so uncomfortably plausible that it's horrifying.

Photo: Lionsgate

Two married couples hit the road and run afoul of a sinister cult in Jack Starrett's suspenseful thriller, which manages to fuse paranoia and car chases into one classic, exciting shocker.

Photo: 20th Century Fox

American tourists sneak onto an isolated pyramid, but if they try to leave they are immediately murdered. The reasons are bizarre, but watching foolish people try to think their way out of a terrible predicament - and make their situation worse at every turn - insidiously undermines our own faith in our ability to survive a life-or-death situation.

Photo: Paramount

Blake Lively goes surfing at an isolated beach, only to get stranded on a rock, with a pissed off, giant shark circling around her. Jaume Collet-Serra's thriller is gorgeously filmed and righteously suspenseful.

Photo: Columbia Pictures

A group of vacationers wander into an old, cheesy tourist trap full of creepy old mannequins... which might be alive. David Schmoeller's film goes in weird, perverse, wholly unexpected directions and offers low-fi, but highly frightening scares.

Photo: Compass International Pictures

A pregnant couple goes on vacation to a charming island full of homicidal maniac children, in a film that predates Children of the Corn (the story and the movie) and is 100% scarier. Narciso Ibáñez Serrador's film pulls no punches, and is all but guaranteed to shock you.

Photo: Dark Sky Films

Three backpackers find themselves trapped by a monster of a man in Greg McLean's vicious, violent, visceral thriller. This film is designed to attack your senses. Some people think it does too good a job.

Photo: Dimension
Top Photo: Entertainment Studios

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.