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"Exposes the vulnerability of man in relationship to the vastness of Mother Nature and the vicious circle of life."
"You will see...real sharks circling the actors, with their fins cutting the surface and tails flopping in the water."
"Not so much a scary movie as it is a desolate one."
Open Water  

Cast

Susan: Blanchard Ryan
Daniel: Daniel Travis
Seth: Saul Stein
Estelle: Estelle Lau
Davis: Michael E. Williamson
Junior: John Charles
Linda: Christina Zenaro
Review August 2004

"Other people go on vacation and spend their days just laying around. We have a story we're going to be telling for the rest of our lives." That story, as Daniel references, involves he and his wife - a typical, workaholic American couple. Taking a break from their busy lives, the two venture off to a tropical locale for some much needed R&R. But what they get in return is much more than they bargained for. While scuba diving, a local dive boat accidentally leaves them behind. Left alone in open water, miles from land, and adrift in shark-infested water, the couple must confront their fears and deal with their dismal fate. Reality based and delivered, the film goes slightly beyond gimmick in painting a grim and ominous experience. With more than a handful of truth, "Open Water" exposes the vulnerability of man in relationship to the vastness of Mother Nature and the vicious circle of life.

The film picks up with a bustling American couple, Daniel and Susan, whose lives are complicated by cell phones and busy work schedules. However, today is different. They are leaving their worries behind in place of a tropical, summer paradise. Hoping the break will help repair their relationship, the two share some time shopping and attempt to disengage from routine upon their arrival. After a much-needed night's rest, they venture on board a dive boat with plans of observing aquatic life at a nearby coral reef. Once aboard, the tourists suit up and check their gear while listening to brief instructions from the ship's captain. During this time, it is obvious that the boat is overcrowded, with far too many distractions to count. And amidst all the commotion, Daniel and Susan keep to themselves.

Underwater, the couples frolic and take pictures with angel fish and moray eels. Meanwhile, Daniel and Susan leave the group temporarily for some personal exploration time. However, when they surface after 40 minutes, they realize something horrible has gone wrong. The tour boat has unexpectedly left them behind. Afloat in open water and miles from land, the two remain calm, exchanging casual jokes and jabs. But how long will they have to wait before someone recognizes they're missing? Spying a few boats on the horizon, they attempt to signal distress calls to no avail. And with the current dictating their movement, hope begins to fade. With visits from jellyfish, barracuda, and sharks, fear, restlessness, and panic begin to sink in. Will the two make it through the night? Will they avoid being shark bait? Will they survive?

"Open Water" begins with an audacious start, proclaiming that the story you are about to watch is "based on true events." And according to an informative article byCyber Diver News Network's David Fickling , there is actually truth to that statement. Although there have been many stories of divers getting stranded in open water, the film gets its inspiration primarily from the story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, American tourists who disappeared in 1998 after taking a series of dives near Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Aboard the vessel, the Outer Edge, the couple was grouped with 24 passengers and a 5 man crew. And after two successful dives along the ribbon reefs, the Lonergan's began their third. But this time, when they surfaced, the Outer Edge was gone.

As an audience, we struggle with the plausibility of reckless abandonment. With built in security measures and sophisticated technologies, you have to wonder how anything as absurd and absentminded could happen? How could a dive company, holding people's lives in their very hands, make such a simple miscalculation? Apparently, it happens more often than you think. According to Fickling: "In a check on 59 dive shops by Queensland health and safety inspectors in 2002, a total of 76 notices were issued for failure to do proper head counts, dive logs or lookouts." And with that kind of track record, with that kind of ambivalence, you have to wonder how any of these tour companies stay in business. Perhaps this film will be a wake up call?

For the sake of production value, you have to admire the perseverance and realism infused into the project. After all, writer/director Chris Kentis and his wife, Laura Lau, along with a skeleton cast and crew logged over 120 hours in the water, shooting on weekends and holidays, and filming amidst real ocean life. With a budget of only $130,000, you won't see any special effects or trick photography in this indie. But what you will see are real sharks circling the actors, with their fins cutting the surface and tails flopping in the water. Shot entirely on digital video to preserve authenticity and to create a home movie atmosphere, the images come across grainy and blurry in parts. However, the technique pays off terrifically in the open water, where Daniel and Susan are half submerged and things are visibly floating above and beneath the surface.

Yet even with a handful of factual material and nifty camera work, I still found the film to be unintelligible in parts. Apart from counting by abacus, it's hard to imagine certified divers relying exclusively on knowledge gained from the Learning Channel. Basic open water instruction tells you that when you remove dive weights, you remove the entire weight belt; that in a tropical climate, the main concern is not sharks, but hypothermia; and that with the buoyancy of a wet suit, you cannot stay submerged when your dive weights are at the bottom of the ocean! Even more puzzling on a human level: If you were stranded in open water and there were ships on the horizon, wouldn't you swim frantically toward them? If you had a knife, why would you use plastic, unreflective goggles to attract attention? And after spending less than a day in open water, why would you just give up?

Such factual flaws and illogic point to a film that is underdeveloped, lacking in human motivation. Unlike Kentis' previous effort, "Grind," which starred an up and coming Billy Crudup and honed in on the travails of blue-collar life and mischief, "Open Water" is unsophisticated and dull. In the film, it's easy to see the strong headline, a compelling tale of two divers left stranded in the ocean, surrounded by sharks. But for the film to be more than that, it has to develop Susan and Daniel into compelling characters, characters that have an invested interest in each other. Regretfully, this interest is short lived on screen as the couple struggles with their marriage, even finding time in the middle of a crisis to blame one another for their misfortune. Says Daniel: "The only reason we are out here in the first place is because of your (expletive) job!" Retorts Susan: "You were the one who picked the dates?.I wanted to go skiing!" And these outbursts detract from the film's intent, watching two characters bicker when their energy should be focused on survival.

"Open Water" is not so much a scary movie as it is a desolate one. Abandonment, helplessness, and futility - all of these fears manifest things that are far greater than what lies beneath the surface. It's the kind of emptiness that makes you question the very fabric of human existence. Why and how could something like this happen? Unfortunately, as Chris Kentis points out, things like this can happen. Although "Open Water" does not necessarily thrill or create appealing characters, it does conjure up a horrific image of solitude. Wrote Ernest Hemingway, "No man was ever alone on the sea." But for the characters in the chilling "Open Water," such words offer very little comfort when compared to the simple thought of being left behind.



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