Open Water (2004)

Picture this if you will: you’re going scuba diving, and your boat leaves you behind. In the middle of the ocean. No food, no water, hunger and dehydration are starting to set in, hypothermia is on its way, sharks are starting to nibble at you, you’re being stung by jellyfish and you’re not sure whether you’re two or two-hundred miles from land. And to make it worse: No one knows you’re even missing. That’s gotta suck, right? Well, it’s happened in real life, and to the two people who are the subject of “Open Water”.

As the character Daniel observes: “It’s a lot more common than you think”, but hell it sure is a frightening concept to fathom. Done on an extremely low-budget by two very talented filmmakers, “Open Water” took film festivals by storm, and by the trailers it looked pretty damn good. Ultimately, it’s a very original film somewhat deriving from “The Blair Witch” which is basically the same premise, except this ends up becoming a lot more intense for the reasons that the woods are naturally a place where scary stuff is expected to happen, but in the middle of the ocean? Not your usual setting for a thriller such as this. Critics raved about this, it did good business in the box-office but with horror fans, you either liked it or hated it, and I really liked this. The couple we see stranded in the water go through the usual stages of conflict before our eyes, that willingness to deny that the situation can’t be as bad as you think and slowly we watch their relationship dissolve and disintegrate to where our wills begin to disintegrate, because what makes this such a grueling experience is that this is a situation that can happen.

Susan and David head out for a vacation from a hectic work life and to rekindle their relationship, while scuba – diving and a botched headcount they’re accidentally left behind in the middle of the water with no way of getting back home. I was very intrigued with which way the writer would go with this movie, because easily this could have become boring, but I was very intrigued and engrossed into the story and two characters, and I was anxious to see what would happen to them. Actors Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis give great performances for their pivotal roles and are very convincing as the couple who aren’t as happy as they seem. The journey of being lost and basically left for dead brings out their real raw emotions and we watch them slowly unfold by the seams.

There’s the natural progression of denial with the two who believe, at first, that the situation can’t possibly be as bad as they think, but the character Susan is instantly frightened as Daniel attempts to assure her again and again, but somehow we can sense he’s just as frightened as she is. Though the characters constantly reflect their emotions off one another, we can sense this situation is likely going to turn out badly as are they. We see them go through the motions of patience, denial, and slowly we witness the raw emotions turn on them from blame, arguments, and the eventual coming to terms that they may die. The mood is set very well with the noticeable lack of musical score which helps influence the stark grim mood and realistic situation for the audience to experience. There are a lot of silent moments where we watch the psychological breakdown of the characters while they struggle to survive amidst the sharks (which were real, by the way), and other underwater predators.

The filmmaking is so well done that you almost feel the chill of the sea water among the two characters and we root for them to survive and hold on to make it alive, but whether or not the ending is a happy one, I’ll basically leave it up to you to find out. Ryan and Travis have good chemistry together and are very effective in their emotional sequences including Travis who is a talented actor I hope gets discovered. The gorgeous Ryan is very good as well with her emotional moments displaying a real talent and plays well off Travis. This is such a good tense and gripping movie to see, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. It’s a great feeling when a hyped movie actually lives up to what it promises.

My main gripe with the film was my question of how we’re supposed to be frightened, horrified and lost with these people if we don’t know them well. To say the least, their characters aren’t complex enough for us to sympathize with them and their situation. They’re often times done with very broad strokes and their personalities and relationship just basically hinted and implied rather than focused on. She may be a workaholic, or they both may be workaholics, they may be in turmoil with their relationship or not, they might be cheating on one another or not, none of it is ever focused on enough for us to feel sorry for them when something bad happens. And then there’s the score; dear god what an awful score with a lot of congas and blaring Jamaican music played during the most emotional and tense moments that just took me out of the mood and confused me. Despite broadly drawn one-dimensional characters and relationships, and an annoying score, this accomplishes a great concept on such a low tech production. Scary, tense, atmospheric, and well acted, this is one fine horror film which relies on real life horror instead of monsters.