Review: Open Water

Posted by: Mark McLeod  //  August 20, 2004 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Movie Reviews 

Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) are a normal couple. Both overworked to the point of near exhaustion, they cherish the time they get to spend together when they can both come together in the same room. So when the opportunity comes up to spend a week away in a beautiful tropical paradise they jump at the chance, even though Susan brings her laptop and cell phone and is constantly on the phone both to and from the airport. Once they arrive, they begin to lounge around and enjoy each other's company and the short break they are getting from their otherwise hectic lives. The real fun is to start the next day when they go out with a group of 20 other people on a scuba diving expedition deep in a large body of water. Things become troubling when after the dive, they resurface in the spot they were left and the boat is gone, leaving them to fend for themselves in the middle of the water and with nothing but their scuba equipment and themselves to keep warm. Soon, however, they realize they are not alone, as the water is crawling with small fish, dangerous jellyfish, and the potential danger of a group of large sharks. What transpires over the next 24 hours is a chilling account of just what dangers people face when they are lost in "open water".

Open Water is a film that's been getting tremendous online and industry buzz since it played earlier in the year at the Sundance Film Festival. In fact, I first heard about the film when director Chris Kentis appeared on the Late Late Show to promote the film's summer release shortly after the festival ended. Armed with a clip in hand, the film captured my attention early on and it became just a matter of waiting for its eventual summer roll-out from Lions Gate Films. Shot with a minimal crew by director Chris Kentis and his wife/producing partner Laura Lau, Open Water is a triumph in low-budget filmmaking if ever there was one. Although the film has been marketed and reported in the press to be sort of a hybrid of Blair Witch meets Jaws, the only real comparison to the former film is that it was shot on a microscopic budget. Open Water is a return to basic filmmaking techniques. Shot in the Bahamas over a number of years, Kentis and his wife capture the true emotions of a story that is entirely fictional but based on events that happen in the diving community more than you might think.

Part of what works so well in Open Water is the fact that it looks and feels entirely real. As a viewer, I was constantly engaged and on the edge of my seat just wondering what would happen to these two divers as they seemingly float and pass the time hoping for a rescue by the local authorities. When the sharks appear, they are real (no computer generated imagery here), and the constant threat of danger lurking over the characters keeps everyone expecting the unexpected. Everyone has seen shark movies where the sharks are computer generated, and while it's nice to see really impressive-looking fake sharks, nothing beats the suspense and terror caused by the real thing. You can only fake so much before audiences will know the difference and that's something that would have harmed the film.

So while I enjoyed the concept of the film and the overall tone and feel of it, there were a couple aspects that I wasn't so sold on. First off, being a low budget movie, we have a cast of two primary characters that are played by an unknown actor and actress. Kentis hits .500 here as Blanchard Ryan's portrayal of Susan is relatively strong, if underwritten and over dramatized in places, but Daniel Travis's Daniel doesn't do the same as his flat and boring delivery style and wooden performance doesn't endear him to the audience. Some people might find him annoying and begin routing for the sharks. That won't happen with the Susan character because of a rather gratuitous nude shot early on in the film. That and she looks smoking in the wet suit. The other aspect of the film that I didn't quite like was the rather jerky and nauseating digital cinematography. Obviously Kentis was going for a sort of home movie feel, but the image was very washed out in places and it just looked rather unappealing and hard on the eyes. Then again, this is a direct result of the low budget shoot using mostly available light and limited crew members. So it's not too much of a problem as it does serve the film artistically. Still, I was hoping it would be a little more polished.

Open Water is one of those rare movies that come from out of nowhere and surprise the heck out of you. In a summer where M. Night Shyamalan had a horror movie that turned out to be anything but, it's good to see a return to basic balls-to-the-wall horror without relying on the traditional "jump" music cues. Kentis also utilizes available light quite well, with one very chilling scene taking place at night where we only see the characters when lightning flashes overhead. In a summer and a time period where most horror movies do anything but scare me, Open Water comes quite close to accomplishing that task with its home-video-esque, real look. This isn't a Hollywood movie where everything is so perfectly timed and contrived. The scares here are real and I for one don't think I'll go scuba diving anytime soon now. Recommended for those looking for a good old-fashioned scare and who don't mind a bit of jerky hand held camera work.

Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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