Open Water

Neither a BLAIR WITCH PROJECT-like (1999) spook show nor a thrill ride à la JAWS (1975), both films to which it has been compared, Chris Kentis' second film, an ingenious triumph of imagination over budget, is a modest psychological thriller that plucks a primal nerve — the fear of being abandoned, helpless and forgotten. Inspired by the 1998 disappearance...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Neither a BLAIR WITCH PROJECT-like (1999) spook show nor a thrill ride à la JAWS (1975), both films to which it has been compared, Chris Kentis' second film, an ingenious triumph of imagination over budget, is a modest psychological thriller that plucks a primal nerve — the fear of being abandoned, helpless and forgotten. Inspired by the 1998 disappearance of divers Tom and Eileen Lonergan off the coast of Australia, Kentis follows harried couple Susan and Daniel (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) as they depart for a hastily arranged Caribbean vacation and book a spot on a rinky-dink dive boat, which chugs out to sea with a full load of tourists. While the others stick together underwater, Daniel and Susan, experienced divers, strike out on their own. When they surface some 45 minutes later, they can't find the boat. Their first thought is that they've come up at the wrong spot; their second is that the boat has indeed left without them, but will return as soon as someone realizes they're two passengers short. The remainder of the film's brief but anxiety-provoking duration charts Susan and Daniel's waterlogged ordeal of jellyfish, barracuda, thirst, cold, anger, exhaustion and sharks. Lacking money for elaborate special effects, Kentis and his producer, Laura Lau (who's also his wife), hit on an elegant solution: real sharks, nature's natural heavies. All flat black eyes and ghastly grinning mouths, the sharks circle lazily, dorsal fins and tails flapping; they nose at the couple's legs, occasionally taking an exploratory nibble — it's like the torture of a thousand cuts. The film's dispassionate examination of the shifts in Susan and Daniel's relationship as they drift from irritation to barely suppressed panic is at least as nerve wracking, and breathless stories about the film's $130,000 budget, you-are-there digital cinematography and canny casting (Ryan and Travis are a couple in real life) skip over Kentis' boldest decision — making his protagonists a little unlikable. Susan and Daniel are standoffish and full of themselves, snooty about going out on a boat filled with amateurs and cocky enough to leave the safety of the group so they can have their own special tête-à-tóte with nature. It's hard not to wish them what's coming to them, but their comeuppance escalates well beyond a good slap in the ego and the bilious aftertaste of petty spitefulness is sobering.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Neither a BLAIR WITCH PROJECT-like (1999) spook show nor a thrill ride à la JAWS (1975), both films to which it has been compared, Chris Kentis' second film, an ingenious triumph of imagination over budget, is a modest psychological thriller that plucks a… (more)

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