Open Water presents a scenario that taps into one of my deepest fears, and probably one that encapsulates most others as well. The feelings of abandonment and hopelessness presented in the film rattled me to the bone, as did this film on the whole.
Daniel (Travis) and Susan (Ryan) are a couple stuck in a stressful work rut. Desperate for a break, they schedule a trip to an unnamed Caribbean island for a getaway. Newly licensed in deep sea diving, the two partake in a deep sea dive to a coral reef. They board the boat, a head count is taken, and off they go.
Problems aboard the boat force a strange situation in which a few of the other divers cannot go under because of ailments or missing equipment. Because of this, the head count gets messed up. Thinking that everyone is on the boat, the instructors fire up the engine and head back to shore, leaving Daniel and Susan under water mistakenly.
Minutes later, Susan and Daniel surface, with several boats on the horizon, but none nearby. At first they believe that it is an innocent mistake and the boat will come back for them. After all, the have two air tanks belonging to them, as well as the fact that an “accurate” head count was taken.
As the day goes on, no one shows up. Susan and Daniel are drifting out to sea. To pass the time they play games. Soon the jokes turn into fear, especially when the shark fins begin to surface. It is only a matter of time until they attack. And a storm is looming…
Open Water is loosely based on the true story of a couple who disappeared off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 1998. Their bodies were never recovered, but it is believed that they died from dehydration, a shark attack, or both.
As many of us know by now, Open Water was shot on digital video on a very limited budget. So limited, in fact, that the majority of it was shot on the weekends miles out to sea. Actors Travis and Ryan spent well over 100 hours in the water with live sharks under the guide of a trainer. To say that Travis and Ryan are brave and good sports is an understatement.
But is the film good? The answer is yes. While the acting in the first act is hardly great, Travis and Ryan really show their acting chops once they are in their unbelievably dangerous predicament. They are a very believable couple, and still very much in love despite their hectic working lives. And best of all, they are not stupid. Daniel in particular is very knowledgeable about sharks and ways to survive at sea. It is a true downward spiral as the day goes on, however, and one that I found to be very believable.
Writer/Director Chris Kentis and his Cinematographer/Producer girlfriend, Laura Lau, make the most of the digital video format. While the film does look grainy and suffers from motion blur in many scenes, it succeeds in giving the final product a very documentary-style feel. This enhances the chill factor, and makes us feel like we are there. Kentis shows some major directing chops, especially when the sharks start circling. He shines the most during the film’s nightmarish storm sequence.
Film critics nationwide are calling Open Water a mesh of The Blair Witch Project, 1999’s smash Indie hit, and Jaws, the timeless Steven Spielberg masterpiece. I will have to disagree, as this is not a “shark” movie, per se. This is a human survival story. The people are the main characters, not the shark. Those looking for 79 minutes of shark attacks will be sorely disappointed. This is human drama to the likes of which I have not seen in quite sometime.
It is always difficult to tell whether or not these shoestring budget films will play well with mainstream audiences. While I enjoyed the film immensely, I don’t think that it will play as well to the masses. There most likely is not enough gore and too much talking. I will not divulge the ending, but it is not mainstream friendly.
Regardless, Open Water is a solid shocker that taps into normal everyday human fear. Kentis delivers a solid directorial effort, and Travis and Ryan make identifiable and believable characters. Films like Open Water depend on the audience being able to vicariously place themselves in the situation at hand, and if you can do that, you’re in for a nerve-frying treat. That in itself places it above most horror schlock that mainstream Hollywood dumps in the cineplex these days.
Studio: Lions Gate Films
Length: 79 Minutes
Rating: R for language and some nudity.
Theatrical Release: August 6, 2004 (Limited) / August 20, 2004 (Wide)
Directed by: Chris Kentis
Written by: Chris Kentis
Cast: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein, Estelle Lau, Michael E. Williamson, Cristina Zennaro