Open Water Movie Review
One of the most anticipated films of summer 2004 was the $130,000 indie film Open Water, a thriller that claimed to be a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Jaws. Okay, so it may not be up to the standard of either of those, but this one's got a little nudity, lots of sharks and an amazing sense of tension as two divers are stranded in the middle of the ocean without any hope in sight.
Open Water is roughly based on a true story, though character names, destination and so forth have been changed. Specifically, it follows an American couple as they head out on a diving trip, only to be abandoned by their boat. No one knows they are out there, so they spend eternity floating in the ocean, letting the current carry them. While they fear death by dehydration (one of the characters somehow has never heard that drinking salt water is bad for you), a bigger concern should be the many sharks that have surrounded them. Yeah, that wouldn't be pleasant.
The movie starts off rather slow, introducing us to the characters, Susan and Daniel, played by Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis respectively, as they set out on vacation. It painstakingly examines their relationship and their first day in their hotel room, the only real plus being a rather pointless nude shot of Ryan on the bed. However, as time passes, the movie increases in its intensity, though it is not the typical suspense one would suspect. There are no ruthless sharks in this movie, as there are in Jaws, and Open Water really tries to be more of a character film than anything else. Most of the movie - all 79 minutes of it - follow the two characters as they float in the ocean, starting out optimistically and finally crumbling psychologically and physically. However, at the same time, director Chris Kentis continues to increase the dosage of suspense, as we never know when a shark is going to pop out of the water and so on and so forth. Though what happens on screen isn't incredibly shocking, the level of tension is impressively intense throughout the last half of the film.
The ending is a little disappointing, but fitting given the subject matter.
The only thing that really hurts the movie is its low-budget look. Made on a budget of $50,000, this film is a godsend for Lions Gate, as the movie has currently made over $10 million and will probably finish with more than double that. Nonetheless, the digital film is noticeably awkward in the beginning, as long-distant shots look like they were ripped from 20-year old TV footage. The acting is good, but the first few minutes really looked like I had sat down for porn, as the quality just isn't there. As time goes on and the movie hits the water - and zooms in on the characters - the low quality becomes less apparent and less obtrusive.
Open Water is a tense little film with good acting, a good script and well-executed direction. However, it is not for everyone. The low quality film is a turnoff for some, and its slow, methodical approach will bore others. As far as I was concerned, Open Water satisfied my expectations and gave me a refreshing and original thriller that has a bit of a bite to it. Okay, that was a really obvious and lame pun, but hey, what do I care?
The DVD for "Open Water" is pretty decent for an indie film and includes such special features as deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes and two different audio commentaries. The deleted scenes offer more character and scene development at the beginning of the film, but they are generally pretty boring and low-quality. The most interesting one is an alternate ending which foreshadows the end result of the characters; it's hard to tell whether its inclusion would have been a good idea or not. Along with the deleted scenes, there is rather pointless "bonus footage" and two featurettes. "The Indie Essentials" is a dull, 5-minute look at how the filmmakers shot the film and so on and so forth, but really provides little insight into the workings of the film. "Calm Before the Storm," on the other hand, is a longer and more in depth featurette that tracks the film from idea creation to casting through its debut at Sundance. Aspiring filmmakers might find this one interesting.
All in all, if you enjoyed "Open Water" the DVD has some good features. The disc isn't bursting at the seams, but for an indie film, it got a pretty fair treatment.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.