I hate the sea. I hate the sea with the white hot intensity of one thousand suns. I guess I have Spielberg to thank for that seeing as how 'Jaws' made me afraid to swim in my parent's three foot deep above ground pool, let alone the ocean. So as if I needed more reason to fear the ocean and the denizens that prowl within it, along comes Chris Kentis' 'Open Water', something of a pseudo-voyeuristic/sadomasochistic character study that focuses on a couple left to their own devices in the middle of the deep blue nothing.
Susan (Ryan) and Daniel (Travis) need a break from their hectic lives, so they head off to the Caribbean for some sun, some fun, and some scuba diving. When the tour boat crew botches the head count, Susan and Daniel are left behind in the middle of the open ocean, where, at first, the two bicker and joke nervously. However, as the day wears on, the gravity of their situation becomes apparent, and they must look to each other to survive.
Very rarely do I entertain the notion of walking out on a film, but I think this is the first time I've considered doing this when a film is actually good. Chris Kentis's snuff flick at sea is filmed mostly at eye level amongst actual sharks, rolling waves, and never before has the danger in a "drama" been so well realized (or real!). This movie made me sick to my stomach, made my chest ache, and had me heading out to my car afterwards declaring my utter disdain for every sea creature known (and unknown) to mankind. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've hated watching a movie I actually liked.
The performances by Ryan and Travis are both understated little gems, especially in roles where it would be easy (and understandable) to perform as if in a constant state of hysteria. While I'd have slit my own throat at the first site of a shark, normal people who aren't as terrified of the sea would probably act just like this.
Kentis' direction is equally as understated, with the director opting for an unobtrusive documentary approach rather than whiz-bang visual acuity. There are a few shots that take you "out of the moment", but, for the most part, this is “here and now” sort of stuff, and it is nerve wracking as all get out.
So if this movie is so terrifying then why am I not giving it 5 skulls?
Well, it seems as though I was the only one in my rather large group who was remotely frightened by the movie. Everyone else enjoyed it in the same way one would enjoy a Shark Week special on the Discovery Channel. So, imagine my embarrassment as I repeatedly shrieked and jumped in my seat while the rest of the people around me simply laughed at my phobia-induced terror. You see, it’s because I am so frightened of the ocean that I was frightened by this film, so, if you actually like the sea, you may not be all that impressed.
Also, once I regained some semblance of composure, I realized that this is essentially a "gimmick" film, much like The Blair Witch Project. While it's an effective gimmick, it's a gimmick nonetheless, and I don't really see myself clamoring to see this one again anytime soon.
The DVD from Lion’s Gate features a healthy dose of extras, including a spectacular making-of featurette that shows Kentis and crew filming amongst the live sharks in the titular open water. These are not trained animals or aquarium creatures accustomed to the constant presence of human beings; these are the real deal, and it makes the film even scarier on a completely different level. The DVD also features a pair of commentary tracks, trailers, and more.
Open Water is a "good" film that's fright quotient is purely based on one's level of tolerance for the terrors of the deep. If you're one of those EXTREME sorts, who surf, sail, snorkel, and scuba, then you'll probably laugh this all off. However, if you're like me and set down your beach towels several hundred yards from the lapping surf, then this will rock your world.