Open Water

written and directed by Chris Kentis

starring Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan


review by Stephen Notley

The key lesson we draw from Open Water seems to be that when selecting a scuba tour it's important to find people who know how to count to twenty. Numerically challenged tour boats, ones whose staff can't quite tell the difference between eighteen and twenty, we should avoid them, lest we find ourselves drifting helplessly in the middle of the ocean. Unfortunately for Daniel and Susan, a young stressed-out couple looking for a divey getaway, they didn't know what we know about dive tour arithmetical guidelines and so one 18-for-20 mixup later they find themselves up the ocean without a boat.

Even though it's a stripped-down premise for a movie, not a lot of elements -- just two characters bobbing up and down on the ocean -- the overall effect of Open Water is surprisingly involving. It's shot on slightly grainy digital video so it's got that video immediacy, that look we read as handicam "reality" as opposed to the digital mutability of film. There's a slightly arbitrary quality to the visuals, things don’t look movie-selected for just the right shot, the underwater videography isn't crystal clear and smooth a la Shark Week on Discovery Channel. There's a sense that the world of the movie isn't controlled, that Susan and Daniel aren't protected by the fictionality of their situation.

And let's face it, it's not a good situation. It takes a while to develop, for the reality of being adrift in the ocean to settle in. At first Daniel and Susan react on the level of casual bitching, a where's-the-bus? kind of annoyance, assuming quick rescue. Hours drag on, though, and once-visible boats are gone and the constant sloshing gurgling ocean sound and the bobbing up and down and there's no higher ground to get a good look at anything and there's nothing they can do cuz there's no escaping the current.

And the ocean has things in it, stinging things, sudden sharp burning pain, injury, and with it the first inkling that this may not turn out okay. And there are sharks, fins breaking the surface and disappearing, huge dull shapes difficult to see from above, sudden hard shoves from below the waterline. How much can be remembered from Shark Week? What attracts them? What can we do? *Are these sharks going to eat us alive?*

Daniel and Susan are both played by unknowns, Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan. They're good choices, both of them, convincing and normal as people and as a couple, kinda happy, kinda not. They never thought their relationship would ever have to undergo this kind of strain and they do okay, all things considered, or no worse than any of us would have in a similar shitty no-win situation. They don’t make stupid choices, they don't unnecessarily endanger themselves -- they just got screwed, is all.

Open Water is a gruelling viewing experience; it leaves you drained, dehydrated, knotted up and not unknotted. The ending isn't what most people would call "happy". This is a horror movie, folks, intended to unsettle you, maybe show up as a desolate disturbing nightmare a few weeks from now. If you're looking to get wound up, to be made to flinch at blackout sounds and splashing, to be not scared so much as *tensed*, check out Open Water.

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