Television producer Susan (Blanchard Ryan, “Broken Lizard's Super Troopers” ) and her contractor hubbie Daniel (Daniel Travis) don't realize how overdue for a vacation they really are. Too stressed for sex on their first night in the Caribbean, the couple will find themselves putting their relationship to the most extreme kind of test the next day when a dive boat miscounts heads and leaves them in "Open Water."
Real life married filmmaking team of Director/Writer/Editor Chris Kentis ("Grind") and Producer/cinematographer Laura Lau have fictionalized the horrifying tale of a diving couple left in the open seas of Australia's Great Barrier Reef with stunning realism. This 'body clench' of a movie relies only on its stars' ability to brave the waters with scores of real reef and bull sharks, often way too close for comfort, to achieve its scares.
Kentis and Lau go a little overboard with their man against nature themes by juxtaposing Susan's reliance on cell phones (she literally holds one to each ear in opening minutes) and her laptop with closeups of iguanas, hummingbirds and a reptilian eye at their 'island paradise' destination. Daniel's pose for a tourist pick with his head in the mouth of a shark is also obvious, although it produces a nervous chortle. More subtle is Kentis and Lau's inclusion of the couple battling a mosquito in the middle of the night in their hotel room, a predatory situation travelling couples everywhere can relate to.
A very credible explanation is provided as to why the dive boat could have missed two passengers, although Kentis and Lau practically employ graphical arrows to ensure their audience doesn't miss the implication. Once in the water, however, the filmmaking team really come alive, particularly in the way they capture the ever changing qualities of the ocean blue. When we see the first slip of a fin among the waves, the shadowy nature of the sea becomes apparent even on its surface, although it is the hidden depths below that are never far from our consciousness.
Blanchard and Travis are very effective as a typical modern couple as they traverse the arc of loving and total support to short-tempered blame and accusation to shared survival. They pull the audience into the ordeal of spending hours in the water fraught with many different hardships and challenges. In one of the more terrifying sequences, the couple drift apart, having fallen asleep. Susan is awakened by the jostling of an enormous shark, but it is not the shark's presence which terrifies her (she's unaware of it). It is the combined fear of losing her husband and, even more fundamentally, being alone.
Digital video camera work on the open water is excellent, including underwater point of view shots. A blood red sunset is indeed a 'sailor's warning,' heralding a thunderstorm which the filmmakers equate to the water itself - flashes of lightning allow the same brief glimpses as the dipping waves of the ocean. Also effective is the work of supervising sound designer and editor Glenn T. Morgan, which adds an undercurrent of constant threat.
Morning dawns and Kentis and Lau kick in some third act suspense by making us privy to a rescue being mounted, but the couple's eventual fate is strangely anticlimactic. Still, despite some heavy-handedness and odd dramatic decisions, "Open Water" achieves some true moments of primal fear.
Robin did not see this film.
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