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OPEN WATER (R) (2004)

Lions Gate Entertainment

Official Site

Director: Chris Kentis

Producer: Laura Lau

Written by: Chris Kentis

Cast: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis


What is it about sharks at the summer box office? Nearly 30 years ago, audiences flocked to theaters in order to be scared out of their seats by Steven Spielberg’s classic blockbuster, Jaws. Now, with a significantly lower budget (just over $125,000) comes another film which promises to bring more viscerally terrifying encounters with those gnarly flesh-eating fish. Open Water has been talked about a lot since its debut early this year at the Sundance film festival. Made by a group of friends on weekends and during vacations in the Caribbean, Open Water certainly doesn’t look like a Hollywood film. It’s shot on digital video, and in many ways it only helps lend to the realism of the experience. We’re told at the opening of the film that the story is “based on real events.” Chris Kentis, who wrote, directed, and edited the film, along with his wife Laura Lau (who helmed camera and producing duties), is clearly going for a Blair Witch Project effect. That film built up a lot of hype because the filmmakers cleverly convinced people, through the press, that what happened during filming was real. Here, the press has relentlessly informed audiences that the actors were in the water with (gasp!) real, man-eating sharks. Actually, the actors wore protective chain mail under their scuba suits and were surrounded by human-friendly reef sharks. Nevertheless, as I watched the film, I held my breath, squirming a number of times. I kept asking myself, “How did they shoot this?” Were they nuts? It just goes to show that you don’t need a hundred-million-dollar budget to provoke fear and terror in the minds of your audience.

The film begins mildly enough. We spend a little time getting to know the busy, anxious-for-a-vacation yuppie couple (Daniel and Susan), played by Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan. Like most average American couples, they’re just looking for a peaceful break from their hectic lives. Once they jump into the water, the quiet nightmare of their unfortunate dilemma unfolds. A scuba boat leaves them behind after a fluke miscount of passengers. Minutes later, the happy couple resurfaces, and they slowly come to the realization that the boat might not be coming back. They begin to bicker. “If only you hadn’t spent so much time petting that damn eel!” Susan screams at her frustrated husband. Several hours later, the ocean current has planted them in a garden of floating jellyfish. Though painfully stung several times, they manage to escape the poisonous pods only to find themselves surrounded by barracudas and, worst of all, those pesky sharks.

In broad daylight, after nine hours in the water, Susan finally is bitten (mildly) by a passing shark. Shortly thereafter, Daniel loses a hunk of his leg as a school of sharks encircles them. He wails at his wife, then lashes out against Mother Nature. “Do you realize we could actually be eaten alive?” he yells. “We don’t even know anyone who’s ever been bitten by a shark!” Here we’re presented with a disturbing philosophical question: What do our lives really mean if we can so easily find ourselves in a helpless, tragic situation like this?

After the terrific suspense of the first 70 minutes, the anti-climactic conclusion of the story left me scratching my head. I felt dissatisfied. There just didn’t seem to be enough emotion coming from the two actors at this point. I mean, this is a horror story after all. At the same time, the ending did lack the unwelcome manipulation one gets in the closing moments of the average Hollywood thriller. Still, something really bothered me about the casual way the filmmakers brought up the final credits.

At a swift 80-minute pace, Open Water won’t eat up a lot of your day. But I can’t promise that the terrible memories of the shark-bitten couple won’t eat a hole through your dreams.

—Tiffany Crouch Bartlett

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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