Die, yuppie chum
Open Water whetted my curiosity and jangled my nerves at times. It is one of those generally grubby digital-video film-festival cocktails, a sort of cinematic well drink, which flaunts its primitive production values and thin content like a cocky reality-TV show. This sort of Jaws meets The Blair Witch Project provides not only cheap thrills and dark humor but also intermittent, clunky moments. In spite of all the intended realism, those moments yanked me completely out of the story at hand and screamed that this is only a crude little movie.
When we meet lovers Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), they tie up a few professional and domestic loose ends and hustle to the airport for an oft-postponed and much-needed vacation. Their relationship seems to be in need of resuscitation. They are workaholics who spend more quality time with their careers than with each other. She is addicted to her cell phone. He needs a frequent laptop fix. They both need to stop and smell something other than the burning rubber of their daily routines.
So, the stress-challenged yuppie couple has booked a last-minute trip to the tropics. Once Susan and Daniel are inside their island hotel room, the camera lingers over Susan as she lies stretched out naked in bed. Daniel must not be as photogenic, because it doesn’t linger on him at all before he slides between the sheets and Susan announces, after a brief cuddle, that she is not in the mood for sex. Daniel takes the news like an understanding gentleman. One wonders if the maid left him a chocolate mint on his pillow to ease his disappointment.
The next day, Susan and Daniel hop aboard a crowded charter craft for a 40-minute offshore scuba dive. They slap fins to water and do some reef exploring on their own. They later surface and discover that the boat has left them behind. The good news is that they can release their weight belts and bob up and down rather effortlessly in the sea. The bad news is that this part of the sea is infested with sharks that may interpret all that effortless bobbing up and down as an invitation to dinner.
This 79-minute thriller is based on a true story (there is documented evidence that a couple was stranded under similar circumstances near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef), but it plays more like an urban legend in wetsuits. The digital-video format gives Open Water intimacy, but the poor lighting, choppy sound and home-movie texture works against the story at times rather than heightening its suspense and horror.
Open Water was written, directed and edited by Chris Kentis and produced by his wife, Laura Lau. They use no animatronics or computer-generated imagery. The sharks were wrangled into position using chunks of bloody tuna. They are, and they feel, very real. Even a fin breaking the surface of the ocean is credible cause for alarm. But this is a movie, a video hat trick, and we are never allowed to forget it. The characters are too underdeveloped to elicit an emotional investment. Droplets of water on the camera lens remind the audience that “it’s show time, folks” as a feeding frenzy threatens. And the story—of two divers not being noticed as missing for 24 hours even though their bagged belongings sit where air tanks should rest—feels phony.
The actors do a fair job of reflecting a cycle of anger, exhaustion, camaraderie, hunger, thirst and fear. They do look like one sad and very concerned couple at times, and the script is often a hoot, as discussions range from who is to blame for absolutely everything that has gone wrong in their relationship to who is urinating in the water. The script wants to be framed by such domestic turmoil as developed in The Abyss, but it arrives in clumps of disjointed, petty gripe sessions. And a sudden storm brews some excitement, with lightning used as a spooky strobe light. But the whole incident passes too quickly.
One point the film does nail with a huge laugh is that one should be very, very careful what one wishes for: "We wanted an ocean view," says Daniel. "Boy, did we get it."