Open Water

Solid, mildly thrilling zero budget indy flick. Contains moderate shark based peril and one use of strong jellyfish.

Released in 2003, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 13 Sep 2004 by Scott Morris
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For a species that spent millennia evolving to escape the ocean's watery grasp there sure are a lot of humans willing to dive back in. One such couple are Susan and Daniel, on holiday from their hectic modern day living to..well somewhere sunny and Caribbean-looking, I suspect deliberately left unnamed. Their supposedly soothing eel-stroking diving trip takes a turn for the stressful when some dodgy arithmetic on the operator's headcounting leads to their boat home leaving without them. Caught in a strong current intent on carrying them with it, the duo have little to do but wait hopefully for a rescue and dodge the nastier and deadlier members of the aquatic wildlife.

In terms of strict narrative that's about the extent of it, the two leads clinging to life and each other with the exception of a brief round of stress induced blame laying that winds up taking a significant percentage of the film thanks to its miserly eighty minute duration. The message of the piece would seem to be limited to 'don't mess with sharks on their home turf', which while no less valid a lesson than from Jaws isn't one that's needed to be repeated.

Comparisons to 99's Blair Witch brouhaha abound from many directions, largely from the low budget, low fidelity shaky cam approach to cinematography and the massive hype campaign the studio has backed the launch with - billboards abound, almost as numerous as when the Matrix Reloaded bandwagon rolled by. Still, Open Water hasn't caught the mainstream, media saturation wave that Blair Witch did, although given the eventual frightening (more so than the film) backlash against the earlier flick that's probably a good thing.

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Both films try to hook you in the same ways, hoping your cinematic intimacy with the leads will have you sharing their understandable fears and panics. Open Water trumps the earlier woodland affair by dint not only of far more charismatic and sympathetic leads but also their plight being all too plausible without relying on tawdry legends and mysticism. Both have an aversion to keeping the camera on an even keel, although we'll have to let Open Water away on this charge what with it being set in the sea and all. Both films are nothing like they were cracked up to be.

However, while Blair Witch was just bad on every level, Open Water has enough redeeming features to push it into the 'solidly average' category for everyone apart from the few goons in our audience applauding at the end of the movie, something we'll have to put down to a temporary intelligence failure or more likely an influx of impressionable American students at the start of the new Uni term. Moments of dialogue are rather sharply written, and while it'd be stretching definitions to say it was 'thrilling' it's certainly at least 'interesting' and difficult not to feel some sympathy for the characters. Come to think of it it's also difficult not to feel some sympathy for the actors, spending 120 hours bobbing up and down in the water over the course of shooting. Brrr.

Sadly, the biggest flaw of this flick is how unremarkable it is, and the few points that can be remarked on tend to be of little consequence. Sure, it looks different to the vast majority of multiplex fodder, but only because it looks worse. You could call it 'gritty' and 'low-fi filmmaking' if you're feeling pretentious (as we always do), but if we're calling spades spades it just plain looks, well, plain. Setting a film near entirely in one location is always a gamble but the charismatic performances from the leads coupled with it's brief run time stops this becoming the hindrance it may have been. While it has an almost charming minimalism to the storytelling, it's not a particularly fantastic film and as it's not going to achieve the same pop-culture iconic status the aforementioned woodland based indy-cum-blockbuster did we can't recommend seeing it as a talking point. If your local fleapit isn't as eclectic as ours and are in the mood for something a little different over the usual homogenised Hollywood efforts then Open Water should see you right, but don't expect it to rock your world to its foundations.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Chris Kentis
Cast list:
Blanchard Ryan (Susan)
Daniel Travis (Daniel)