Open Water

on August 06, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
Like "The Blair Witch Project" before it, "Open Water" is an ultra-low-budget uber-indie horror flick that could very well resonate with audiences outside the festival circuit. Set almost completely on the open water of the ocean, it relies on our fear of the unknown, that which we cannot see lurking menacingly beneath the surface, for its fright factor.

Daniel (Daniel Travis) and Susan (Blanchard Ryan) are a typical yuppie couple whose vacation, like the rest of their lives, gets off to a hectic start as they wrap up responsibilities at home on the morning of their departure. Once they arrive at their island holiday destination, they engage in typical touristy activities, although their first night in the hotel proves the romantic setting has yet to work its magic. The next morning they board a local dive boat for an underwater tour of the reef. But, due to a series of miscommunications by a distracted crew, the couple, still underwater, is inadvertently left behind.

The filmmakers take care in explaining the complex situation that would allow such a thing could happen, but one can't help but shout silently at the screen, "Why don't they just count the number of passengers to make sure they're all there?" Still, the film is based on a true story, and one doesn't have to so much suspend disbelief as accept that mistakes like this do happen.

Over the next 24 hours, Daniel and Susan, floating in their buoyant diving suits, wait to be found. At first they debate whether to swim toward two boats on the horizon, opting instead to wait where the dive boat would know where to come back and find them. Soon they've drifted off course anyway. Susan's dramamine wears off, and she's been ingesting salt water, so she lays back to get some rest, only to wake up separated from her husband. They soon reunite, but as jellyfish sting, barracudas bite and sharks bump from below, they turn on each other--a volatile situation until Susan screams, "I wanted to go skiing!" Night falls, and thunderclouds roll in. Their panic is palpable. The scenario is freaky. One can't help but ask, What would I do?

Shooting mainly over weekends and holidays, writer/director Chris Kentis and his wife, producer Laura Lau, oversaw a crew made up of family members who pitched in as production assistants and the boat captains who shuttled them to their primary location 18 miles out at sea where the actors bobbed 1,500 feet above the sea floor. On the first day of shooting, Ryan was bitten by a barracuda, and Kentis nearly lost his camera more than once when a curious shark took hold and gave it a tug.

The point is, "Open Water" drifted in on the waves of the truly independent underground. The unfortunate thing is that, also like "Blair Witch," it looks it and likely won't transfer well visually to the big screens of today's multiplexes. So much of the production is really amateur, from the faked conversations on the dive boat to the poor quality of the background noise. Particularly unfortunate, given the stunning setting, are the washed-out video images captured on Sony HD Cam. On the other hand, the film has the texture of a home movie that lends to the terror. If it were a slick Hollywood production, one suspects it wouldn't have seemed as real and therefore wouldn't have been nearly as scary. Starring Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein and Estelle Lau. Directed and written by Chris Kentis. Produced by Laura Lau. A Lions Gate release. Drama/Horror. Not yet rated. Running time: 79 min

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