Type A personalities Susan and Daniel are slaves to their laptops and cell phones. Having put off a holiday for the better part of a year and on the verge of a total meltdown they book a last minute vacation in hopes of saving their sanity and their relationship. Once they reach their tropical getaway, they get into the spirit of relaxing and in a moment of spontaneity book a dive trip. Their decision has consequences they couldn’t have dreamed of, when after having become so enamoured of the local aquatic flora and fauna they surface to discover that their boat has abandoned them and they’re alone in the open ocean.
Wait a second, dolphins don't have gills. Oh crap...
Loosely based on the true story of two divers that were accidentally abandoned while on a dive trip at the Great Barrier Reef, 'Open Water' has generated a frenzy of interest since premiering at Sundance. Shot on digital video, the film has been erroneously described by some reviewers as 'The Blair Witch' meets 'Jaws': while it shares some similarities with the aforementioned films, writer/director Chris Kentis doesn’t rely on nausea inducing bouncing cameras or bloody-shark money shots to captivate his audience.
Even when one discounts the challenge faced by the principal actors – spending hours bobbing about in the ocean with no props other than wetsuits - Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis (aka Susan and Daniel) deliver solid performances. They succeed in establishing a fluid relationship (no pun intended), that enhances the film’s premise. Kentis highlights the severity of their circumstances through their dialogue and interactions: as they struggle through the classic phases of grief, we are witness to their breakdown, and the film’s most dramatic moments. There are of course special props to inject the occasional dose of adrenaline – our finned friends.
Kentis, who found himself distracted by the CGI sharks created for other films, opted to film the actors in the open ocean with live sharks. And no cages. The actors were told during their audition that they would be working with special “co-stars” and after some initial trepidation they leapt in feet first. To ensure that they were safe, shark wranglers worked with the crew and introduced them to a shark population that was known to be acclimated to humans. The resulting product is impressive – the appearance of the sharks is never foreshadowed by booming music, rather they announce themselves with a well placed splash or sinuous shadow that is especially disconcerting. The other main star is the ocean.
Our first introduction to the ocean is as a serene thing of beauty, a patchwork of cerulean filled with iridescent creatures. But when the boat disappears, it quickly transforms from a liquid playground into a prison. As twilight draws near, and it’s more malevolent denizens make their presence felt, it takes on a far more menacing quality, and reminds us that we are terrestrial creatures.
'Open Water'’s grainy quality adds to it’s vacation video feel, and when combined with quick edits, split level views (above and below water), and surreptitious sounds helps to maintain a level of uneasiness throughout. Kentis’ skillful blending of gallows humor and dramatic elements, also throws the viewer off balance. He does an admirable job of dissecting both the nature of human relationships, and our relationship with our surroundings. This film will surely give you pause next time you think about going off into the big blue.