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Open Water

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 01/29/04 08:17:38

"Swimming with Sharks"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

"Open Water" was a fun movie to discuss with the festival-goers who hadn't seen it yet. "What's it about?" would lead to "It's about a husband and wife who go scuba diving with a large group led by an absent-minded guide; the boat leaves without them, and the pair must the spend 24+ hours bobbing up and down in the middle of the ocean. The distressingly shark-infested middle of the ocean." I'd like to think that I helped steer a few ticket-buyers towards "Open Water"...just on that synopsis alone.

These are the conversations that make one realize that a movie needn't be overstuffed with flashy effects (Open Water has none) or laden with expensive actors (again, none on display here) to get a jaded Festival audience interested enough to line up for 67 minutes in 10-degree weather. Present a compelling story (one that preferably involves sharks in some small way) and then tell people "Oh, by the way? This horrific ordeal? It really happened."

And then watch the theaters fill up and the distributors come courting.

So I say Good Job to director Chris Kentis (1997's Grind; that's NOT last year's skateboarding turkey, by the way...) for taking a terrifying and addictively fascinating true-life tragedy and turning it into a white-knuckled and wholly enjoyable little 'lost at sea' thriller.

Clocking it at just under 80 minutes, Open Water is not a film that could be accused of wasting time with unnecessary plot contrivances. Indeed there's only one plotline worth mentioning: Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) are harried and hurried executive-types, the sort of married couple who communicate in between frequent visits with their cell phones; the sort of duo who try to wedge a brief vacation into their frenzied lives...and promptly begin to regret this decision most earnestly.

Susan and Daniel seem a little bit snobby and elitist, and this explains why they feel the need to "separate from the crowd" once they plunge off the back of their tour boat and begin heading into the briny depths. Both are relatively accomplished scuba divers, so neither feel any trepidation at taking off for some private time on the ocean floor.

But through a logical and rather realistic sort of "headcount" error, Susan and Daniel are left behind. When they reappear on the ocean's surface, the pair are initially very confused as to where their boat got to.

Confusion turns to anger.

Anger turns to fear.

And as early morning slowly turns to evening, fear turns to terror.

Once the sharks show up in heavy rotation, I'll leave it to the individual viewer to decide what comes after "terror".

Because Open Water is horribly and blissfully intense, the sort of grass-roots thriller that will have you squirming in your seat as each successive dorsal fin breaks the waves. Not at all a horror film intent on delivering cheap thrills and copious body counts, Open Water is instead almost a comedy of errors; the series of events that have led to this poor couple's role as floating salad bar are based in a generic reality that lends some real tension to the tale; this sort of thing could happen to ANYone, the film plainly reports, and those who have a deep affinity for scuba diving will leave Open Water just a bit more cautious...and a whole lot more aware of which tour guides they might trust with their lives next time out.

Open Water is directed in a gritty, basic style on digital video. While this approach is often used by aspiring filmmakers with more good ideas than they have extra cash, it works to Kentis' advantage surprisingly well. Open Water has the feel of someone's home video footage, and by the time the truly terrifying moments of Shark Encounter kicks in, you'll be stunned to see how involved you are in what still feels like "home video footage".

In other words, Kentis was aiming for a sort of "intensity via reality" sort of thing and damn if they guy doesn't pull it off with flying colors. The sharks you see? Real. The actors? All real. The nominal distance between the actors and the chomp-happy eating machines? Very, very real.

Lion's Gate (always the champion of great and low-budget horror) wisely snapped this flick up right quick, and if the LG folks are as half as smart as I think they are, "Open Water" will hit about 1,000 screens sometime this June or July. This movie could do for scuba diving what "Jaws" did for swimming.

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