(director/writer: Chris Kentis; cinematographer: Laura Lau/Chris Kentis; editor: Ben Wilkens/Chris Kentis; music: Graeme Revell; cast: Blanchard Ryan (Susan Watkins), Daniel Travis (Daniel Watkins), Saul Stein (Seth), Estelle Lau (Estelle), Michael E. Williamson (Davis), Cristina Zennaro (Linda), John Charles (Junior); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Laura Lau; Lions Gate Films; 2003)
“Effectively evokes a sense of the tragic.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Chris Kentis is director/writer/cinematographer of this shot in the Bahamas microbudget ($130,000) sea water survival thriller that is based on true events (a similar experience happened to a couple off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 1998). Chris’s wife Laura Lau is the producer and helps with the photography. It plays as a tribute to Jaws, The Blair Witch Project and something PBS would put on as a special on scuba diving. By avoiding CGI effects and keeping everything simple, the film effectively evokes a sense of the tragic. I don’t know if this is the kind of story that is completely entertaining, but in its limited aims it challenges modern man’s materialistic lifestyle and relationships. It has a disarming way of exposing man’s fragility and vulnerability, while questioning what modern man wants to achieve in his work and leisure time.
A bickering, yuppie, workaholic couple, Susan and Daniel Watkins (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis), are stressed-out and plan in a rush an unexpected scuba-diving vacation to revive their tense marriage. They choose to go to an unnamed Caribbean island and charter out the Reef Explorer vessel with a group of other scuba divers. The tour guides were confused and mistakenly think all the divers have surfaced from their controlled time dive (they lost count of the divers when one of the tourists (Stein) borrowed another diver’s mask who returned and when he and his partner surfaced were incorrectly counted in the original unchanged head count). The vessel takes off leaving the couple stranded in the middle of the ocean. Unable to swim to the ships they can see in the distance, the abandoned couple drifts with the current. Desperation sinks in after about 7-hours in the water when they realize the vessel is not returning for them. They are bobbing up and down in shark-infested waters (these are real sharks circling the couple), suffer from jellyfish bites, cold, hunger, depression, a continuation of their marital feud and at night there’s a storm leaving them with a sense of imminent doom.
The film was ably carried by the two unknown actors, whose ordinariness made us identify with them and their dire predicament touched on our primal fears. It’s a film that relies on the viewer’s imagination to supply the suspense instead of anything explicit. I’ll admit there was not much of a story, but the film was always tense and ends with a jolting surprise. Open Water was a crowd favorite at Sundance and wowed them at other film festival venues. I expect this film will sneak up on the multiplex audience and take a nice chunk out of the box-office. It has caught hold of the modern trend of the reality-TV shows sweeping the country and is swimming in the same murky water.
REVIEWED ON 8/23/2004 GRADE: B –