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
—Tiffany Crouch Bartlett