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‘Open Water’: A Thriller with Bite
 
by Jeremy Mathews
 
   

“Open Water”
Lions Gate Films
Written and directed by Chris Kentis
Produced by Laura Lau
Starring Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein, Estelle Lau, Michael E. Williamson, John Charles and Christina Zenaro
Rated R

(out of four)

“Open Water” startlingly captures the sheer horror of a life-threatening experience. Most of the film takes place in the ocean, where a boat has left a man and woman behind after a headcount error on a scuba diving trip. They begin with the calmness of people who are used to their boring lives and don’t expect anything very interesting to happen to them, which makes it all the more horrifying when it does. While the film is set in shark-infested waters, it’s more about the fear of an unknown and sudden death than a movie with shots of sinister fins stalking characters. One character has read several diving magazines and knows about sharks, but isn’t sure how long until they’ll eat them.

Real-life instances inspired the movie, and diving enthusiast Daniel (Daniel Travis) tells his wife Susan (Blanchard Ryan) that being left behind isn’t all that uncommon when she expresses disbelief at their predicament. Still, the experience of two people floating in the ocean, wondering if they’re going to be eaten by sharks, is a rather unique one and “Open Water” defines itself by telling the story without forced plot devices, capturing what one can only assume being stuck in the middle of an ocean is like. The movie was shot on digital video in open water with real sharks and no protection other than body armor for Travis and Ryan, whose fear in the scenes with sharks could very well have little to do with acting.

The opening of the film is, quite frankly, laughable, with awful film-school quality footage of the couple trying to get rid of their work commitments before leaving and bickering about sex and what not in their hotel room. That’s all forgotten, however, when director Chris Kentis uses the digital video medium’s raw look and flexibility to his advantage in the water.

The vast abyss of water in which our heroes find themselves becomes a terrifying unknown where three quarters of their bodies are helplessly floating. Unless a character goes underwatrer to look at something, Kentis usually keeps the camera aboce the surface, where we’re just as clueless as the characters about what’s rubbing against them. Occasionally the camera goes splashes under for a split something, just creating more questions of what’s there and whether or not it will do Susan and Daniel harm.

The intangible threat against them builds as their emotions shift based on what they think their chances are. When the boat isn’t there and they make sure that they’re in the right place, they assume it will come back shortly to pick them up. A couple other boats are in sight, but they’re really too far away to swim towards, and doing so shouldn’t be neccessary.

Their psychological health suffers greatly during the film, as they move towards an oscillating decent that includes anger, companionship, resentment and despair. As their situation grows worse, there’s time to reflect on their actions earlier, when they thought they weren’t in real danger, and grow angry at the company that they paid to leave them in a perilous situation.

The honesty with which the film deals with the situation creates an immense sense of doom on even the most banal moments. When the characters are level-headed and thinking clearly about what they need to do to survive, there’s an ever-present, unknowable threat below them. “I don’t know if it’s better to see them or not see them,” Susan says, and the movie is frightening even when it’s visually just two people with their heads above water.

“Open Water” avoids becoming monotonous with a strong sense of the progress of its situation and the mental state of its characters. It moves forward ominously, creating one of the most frightening films in recent memory and never relenting on its terrifying experience.

jeremy@red-mag.com

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