Open Water
2/4
poster

Details & Information from IMDB

Genre Drama
Year 2003
Duration 79 min
Rating 6.0 out of 10
Description: A young thirtysomething couple goes on holiday to the Caribbean. One of the fun activities open to them is scuba diving off a reef several miles out. Due to a faulty head count taken by the dive boat crew, the couple is left behind in the open ocean. They find themselves drifting endlessly for hours on end, facing dehydration, saltwater sickness, jellyfish stings, and the most frightening menace - sharks! Although several boats and ships pass by within the couple's view, none sees them, and they are not discovered missing until the following morning when the dive boat crew discovers their gear on the boat, and their hotel manager discovers they never returned to their room. Frantically a search is mounted by plane, boat and helicopter. But it may be too late for the young couple, adrift in the....Open Water! Based on a true story from the South Pacific.
Comments: Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) have hectic lives. Even as they're headed out on a much-needed vacation, they're making last minute business phone calls. They head to a Caribbean island for sun, fun and their real passion, scuba diving. On their second day they schedule a spot on a commercial diving trip to a reef, where due to a head miscount by the tour guide, they end up left behind. How will they survive in open water?

This is a remarkable film for a number of reasons. It's basically a "super low budget" independent film, made on free weekends by a husband and wife writer/director/producer team with little-known actors and a skeleton crew. It was later picked up by Lion's Gate after a showing at Sundance in 2004, and went on to earn over $30 million on its US theatrical release alone. Of course, it doesn't deserve a high rating for those reasons. There are plenty of super low budget films made with passion that ended up being terrible, and others, such as The Blair Witch Project (1999), which made an exorbitant return, but which, for me at least, didn't work very well.

The triumph of Open Water is that writer/director Chris Kentis constructed a disarmingly simple film that ends up being incredibly effective in its goals--to present an intense, thrilling, suspenseful life or death scenario with horrific implications and subtextual commentary on appreciating and living life to its fullest, even when faced with the power and non-judgmental potential brutality of nature.

You can tell that Open Water is unusual from the first frames. Shot entirely on digital video, Kentis achieves a look that is crisply, almost otherworldly beautiful and colorful and which at the same time conveys a stark, voyeuristic glimpse at a "home movie". This atmosphere helps create an extremely realistic feel, aided by the outstanding performances of Ryan and Travis as well as Kentis' naturalistic direction. For example, while heading out on the boat, he has the cast engaging in small talk, none of which the viewer can quite make out--just as if you were a passenger watching these events unfold.

Once our protagonists are left behind to fend for themselves in the open water, the thoroughgoing realism doesn't stop. In fact, Kentis actually filmed his in the ocean, occasionally surrounded by real, wild sharks, which were only controlled by a shark wrangler (or "shark choreographer" as he calls himself) strategically tossing food into the water to hopefully direct their attention. While trying to survive, mired in their realistic but horrific situation, Susan and Daniel run through a plethora of emotions and conversations, all completely believable.

Kentis occasionally relieves the tension by presenting more abstract images--various shots of water at one point, clouds at another. These are beautifully filmed and edited, and very simply but effectively convey volumes about the unthinking ubiquity and power of nature, juxtaposed with man's place in it, attempting to survive.

Another unusual sequence has our protagonists still struggling as night and a thunderstorm descend. Long swathes of darkness accompanied only by frightening audio are occasionally punctuated by lightning flashes, which show just enough to heighten the sense of impending doom. It's an amazing moment and a pinnacle of horror film-making, completely justified and believable, yet terrifying. Kentis also deserves kudos for the resolution of the film, which is wonderfully poetic and nihilistic at the same time. Even though the running time of the film is slightly on the short side, the pacing and unfolding of events seems perfect; it doesn't feel short at all.

While this is not a film that everyone will appreciate, due to its extreme uniqueness and the uncompromising nature of the script, it is a film that anyone serious about film (and especially horror films) should watch and give a fair chance.