Open Water Review
By Nicholas Schager
A soggy thriller that fails to generate more than moderate tension via its ugly DV camera work and hopelessly linear scripting, Chris Kentis' Open Water must have swam much better on paper than it does on screen. The story of two scuba divers who are accidentally abandoned in the middle of the ocean and forced to combat exhaustion, dehydration, and the frightening creatures living (and feeding) under the sea, it's a horror story designed for the reality TV generation - dramatically static, overly gimmicky, and determined to provide a false veneer of you-are-there realism. Those still wracked by a Jaws-inspired aversion to the ocean will surely find a few new reasons to avoid the Great Below, but Kentis' film is more teasing than terrifying, failing to achieve the nerve-wracking suspense that his concept (and the movie's buzz) suggests.
And that's an opportunity missed, since the story - advertised as "based on true events" - holds the potential for a primal battle between man and nature. Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) are a workaholic couple taking time out of their busy lives to vacation in the Bahamas, setting aside their ever-present cell phones and laptops for drinks on the beach and shopping excursions to the local towns. Since both are experienced divers, they head out on a routine voyage to a coral reef, where they're given a half hour to explore the wonders of the deep. When they rise to the surface, however, they discover that their boat is missing; as a result of an incorrect head count, their fellow divers have mistakenly departed without them. Left to fend for themselves against the ocean's hungry indigenous creatures, they begin to drift out into the middle of nowhere and, naturally, into the center of danger.
Through the opening land-based scenes focus on the couple's technologically-reliant lifestyle, Kentis seemingly foreshadows a commentary on humanity's disastrous decision to abandon primal instincts for the cushy comfort of modernity, but unlike the crowded water that Susan and Daniel float through, nothing very deep ever develops underneath Open Water's surface. While sharks and barracuda and eels (oh my!) pester the increasingly frantic husband and wife - both of whom begin blaming each other for their predicament, thus confirming the early allusions to marital difficulties - the film's narrative-less structure has less ups and downs than the wavy ocean Susan and Daniel cope with. Ryan and Travis valiantly try to give their panicked protagonists some believable humanity, and despite their somewhat amateurish performances (likely deliberate, given the film's attempts at authenticity), the two are affectingly sympathetic while attempting to care for one another once marooned in the high seas. What they can't do, however, is compensate for a thin premise that's destined to inevitably conclude with either a rousing rescue or a tragic whimper (as the studio has reasonably requested, I won't spoil the surprise).
Kentis conveys the passage of time through regular time markers, yet just as with the overall digital video camerawork, the director's "home movie gone terribly awry" visual scheme is a mixture of the effective (the ocean's grainy indistinctness conveys a disconcerting immediacy) and the embarrassing (the early, touristy footage). Kentis and laura lau's jumpy hand-held cinematography features some technically impressive setups - the camera's penchant for bobbing in and out of the water's surface slyly hints at the creatures lurking just beneath the divers' feet (tapping into a fear of the unknown), as well as a sequence involving the couple's first night at sea in which their world is illuminated only by punctuating flashes of lightening. Unfortunately, such inspired moments are repeatedly drowned out by a tide of fictional nightmares that seem to have been unwisely tempered in order to foster a more believable set of lifelike circumstances. Open Water wants to scare people away from ever picking up an oxygen tank and a pair of flippers. Instead, it'll have to settle for simply creating anticipation for the next installment of Daniel's favorite television event: Discovery Channel's "Shark Week."
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 20th August 2004
Box Office Worldwide: $54.7M
Distributed by: Lions Gate Films
Production compaines: Lions Gate Films, Plunge Pictures LLC
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Fresh: 138 Rotten: 53
Cast & Crew