Posted by AADIVER on August 15, 2004 at 21:28:41:
In Reply to: OPEN WATER, great movie posted by Northcoast_diver on August 15, 2004 at 14:06:55:
Title: Open Water
Before starting this review, I should note that I watched Open Water in the very first row of a local megaplex, which is never the best position from which to watch any movie objectively—let alone a grainy, shot-on-DV indie film like this one. Even if I had been sitting in the primo seats, however, I have a feeling I still wouldn’t have been impressed by this Jaws-meets-Blair Witch pastiche. The ads for Open Water have sold it as a kind of docu-horror film—watch two actors almost get eaten by real sharks!—but it’s actually more of a domestic melodrama, in which an estranged married couple learn to love each other again in the face of certain death. In theory, I don’t mind that the filmmakers wanted to make a drama instead of a thriller. I enjoy survival stories like The Edge and that great Gary Paulson book Hatchet where the thrills come from the characters’ internal demons rather than any external challenges. Even the first Jaws is more about the three men on that boat than the gigantic shark they’re pursuing.
If only the characters in Open Water were remotely interesting! Instead, we’re stuck with two annoying yuppies named Daniel (Daniel Travis) and Susan (Blanchard Ryan) who are so bland, you wonder why the sharks are so eager to chew on them. It’s hard to tell whether the fault lies mainly with the actors or the script, but either way it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for these twits, who find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean after their tour boat mistakenly leaves them behind. Viewers should be forewarned that it actually takes a good twenty minutes for the plot to even reach this point. The movie actually begins at the couple’s home, where we learn that they’re going through a rough patch in their marriage (I guess that explains the complete lack of chemistry between them). To try and heal the rift, they decide to go on vacation in the Bahamas, where they plan to do some deep-sea diving for the first time. Too bad for them they picked a boat run by mathematically challenged guides.
These early scenes are downright awful, filled with laughable dialogue and some truly painful acting. Perhaps the film’s single worst performance comes courtesy of one of the other members of their diving group, a big mooky guy who forgets his diving mask back on shore and bitches about not being able to dive. This actor apparently decided that he would compensate for the subdued performances of the rest of the cast by overacting as much as possible. Just watch him stalking around on deck, yelling things like “Like it or not—I’m going down!” and try not to laugh. Why director Chris Kentis allowed him to get away with this kind of hammy performance is beyond me. It robs the opening of any sort of suspense and makes the movie seem even more amateurish.
Once Daniel and Susan finally get stranded at sea, however, Open Water finally flickers to life. The first few shots of them gazing at the empty horizon are very harrowing as is the moment when they realize that the sharks aren’t quite as shy as their guides told them. For awhile, Kentis develops their predicament nicely. Susan quickly grows dehydrated and both of them have trouble staying warm. The movie starts to turn south, however, when Kentis allows the two of them to start arguing with each other. I understand the reason for this sort of approach and I actually think it was a good idea to push the movie in that direction. After all, nothing brings out great emotional conflict like the possibility of death. If I were stranded in the middle of the ocean with someone, I’d probably be yelling at them about stupid shit like whose fault it was as well. It’s here that good actors are essential, however, and sadly neither Travis nor Ryan is up to the task. You start to feel the laughs building up in your chest when Daniel yells at Susan about her workaholic ways and it gets harder to hold them back when she screams back at him for “always wanting to do things different from other people!” This is the lamest kind of melodrama and the actors don’t do anything to make it even remotely believable.
If you’re wondering when the two of them shut up and finally start fighting off sharks—don’t get your hopes up. The amount of shark footage in Open Water is actually quite miniscule. It’s not difficult to understand why—this was a microscopically budgeted indie film after all—but it still feels like a cheat considering how heavily the ads play up this aspect of the movie. In fact, the audience I saw the movie with seemed ready to burn down the theater when the film ended with zero man-on-shark battles. Normally I’m a fan of movies that tease terror instead of shoving it in your face, but again, the filmmaker fails to generate any real suspense. Part of the problem is that we don’t really see the characters’ physical deterioration. Susan’s nausea is referred to once and then never heard of again, as is the issue of their dehydration. Leaving out these small, but crucial details breaks the aura of dread Kentis keeps trying to establish. Aside from a few isolated scenes, most notably a nighttime sequence where the characters are illuminated by flashing lightning bolts, Open Water is deathly dull when it should be tense.
Already I’m starting to see some of the same backlash that hit Blair Witch attach itself to Open Water. I’ll still stand up for Blair Witch—problems aside, that movie still had a number of effective scares and used its amateurish style to mostly positive effect—but it’s hard to defend Open Water. Kentis doesn’t possess the same amount of directorial flair as the Blair Witch guys and his actors are even bigger amateurs, if you can believe that. Open Water created a lot of buzz when it played at Sundance earlier this year, largely, I think, because it was one of the few movies there that wasn’t the usual indie slog about boring, unhappy people leading boring, unhappy lives. The ironic thing is, it turns out to be exactly like one of those films except set on sea rather than land. The positive reception started up the hype machine and Lion’s Gate took full advantage of the Sundance connection in an effort to lure audiences into theaters. Judging by their reaction when they come out though, this is the kind of overhyped movie that gives Sundance a bad name.
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