Open Water

Are you tired of bad horror movies that aren’t scary?  Are you fed up with all the needless gore, the cheap "scares" and the thoroughly predictable storylines?  Have you just had enough of all those randy teenagers getting brutally offed for no good reason?
 
If you’re like me and answered in the affirmative for all three questions, then you need to see Open Water.  Here’s a spooky little thriller, released by Lions Gate, that is more riveting and effective than all the Friday The 13ths and Nightmare On Elm Streets put together.
 
Released in the summer of 2004, the movie stars the very beautiful Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis as a stressed out couple in desperate need of a vacation.  When we first meet them they’re both on the phone trying to quickly solve some work-related problems on the day they leave for the Caribbean.  He’s a plumber, she works in TV Sports.  Once everything is settled, they drive off to the airport.
 
After arriving on this stunning island paradise, they take it easy, catch a little sun and for the most part, leave their busy American lives back home.  But it’s not entirely idyllic.  Because the air conditioning in their hotel room is busted and Ryan is too exhausted to fool around beyond making out, sadly, vacation sex is out of the question.  (On the plus side, Ryan does get topless, at least.)
 
The next day, they’re on a scuba diving boat with about two dozen other people.  Davis (Michael E. Williamson), an affable but untrustworthy guide, informs his passengers of the great wonders they’ll probably see during their half-hour dive underwater.  He also quickly goes through some important safety information (hand signals, diving with a buddy, etc.).  Someone is worried about sharks.  Davis assures everyone that the kind they might see are not attracted to human flesh.  As everyone saddles up, he does a head count.  In just a few, short minutes, we learn that math isn’t his strongest subject.
 
The first quarter of Open Water does an effective job of showcasing scenes from a typical vacation.  The acting is so naturalistic you feel like you’re watching a travel documentary.  There’s even some Altmanesque dialogue (overlapping words) thrown in for good measure.  It’s a patient film that nicely sets the tone for the last hour.
 
As the divers go in and then out of the water, Davis, who believes there are 20 divers to keep track of, starts a new count with his pad and pen that will hopefully match his earlier number.  Meanwhile, Ryan and Travis remain fascinated by what they see down below.  Sticking close together, they make the most of their dive, going very close to the time limit, and even snap the occasional photo for posterity.  The filmmakers capture some wonderful shots of nature during this sequence.  I would’ve liked to have seen more.
 
Unfortunately, they’re enjoying the experience a little too much.  By the time they rise to the surface, Davis has already counted 20 divers and the boat has long since left the scene.  It’s a shocking moment, even though it is a little contrived.  (Wouldn’t someone have noticed the missing tanks?  Couldn’t he have counted more than twice?  I know I would’ve.)  Nevertheless, our heroes soon realize their dilemma and go into survival mode.  There are moments of dark humour that work well here in the midst of tremendous tension.  And trust me, there is tension.  The idea of two solitary, defenseless divers (who only have a measly knife for protection) essentially drifting along for many hours without nourishment in a large body of water full of unknown predators is a scary one.  Because Travis has been watching Shark Week on The Discovery Channel, though, there is some reassurance.  He seems to know what he’s talking about.
 
But the longer they’re stranded out there, the more worried and freaked out they both become (although there are times when one tries to soothe the hysteria percolating in the other).  They get hungry and thirsty, but aside from some candies Ryan finds later on, they’re shit out of luck.  They have to pee so bad they end up going in their wet suits.  They go from laughing about their misfortune to outright sniping.  Blame is smacked back and forth like a ping pong.  And then, the biting starts.
 
Open Water played the festival circuit, including Sundance and Cannes, for nearly a year before Lions Gate threw it into theatres in August 2004.  Spending two and a half million dollars for distribution rights, it was money well spent.  The film made 30 million domestically, a third of which was made the first week it went into wide release.
 
Ryan and Travis are believable and sympathetic as the couple.  You feel for them and wonder what they did to deserve this.  No showy overacting here.  Just straightforward performances that get more engrossing as the dangers increase and the sun slowly sets.  I like their dialogue, too.  It feels authentic, like you’re watching a scary documentary.  The use of handheld digital cameras throughout the production adds to the gloomy atmosphere.  You wish The Blair Witch Project was this good.
 
Open Water is far from perfect, though.  Even though the story is based on a real-life incident in 1988 (at one point, Travis notes the startlingly common phenomenon of stranded and forgotten divers, information he gleamed from a diving magazine), their predicament could’ve easily been avoided if Davis, the hapless guide, or even any of the other passengers, had been more obsessive about counting.  (Surely, someone would’ve remembered that hot Ryan, at the very least.  She’s not exactly forgettable.)  Some of the music is quite annoying and unnecessary and, without giving anything away, the movie probably foreshadows the fates of these characters a little too much upon reflection.  Then again, maybe that was the point.  Regardless, it’s a beautiful looking film and those scenes are eerie.
 
So, when you’re looking for a scary movie to watch this Halloween, or on any day, for that matter, stay away from mainstream, big studio trash.  Watch Open Water instead.  If you have any curiosity about scuba diving, prepare to have your mind changed.  Permanently.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
2:54 a.m.
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Published in: on October 30, 2007 at 2:55 am  Leave a Comment  

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