Hitchcock lookout- The terror looms below! We can’t see it, but we all know it’s there – and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it- not even Daniel and Susan! Chris Kentis’ Open Water is a deeply emotional flick that plunges us into a vacations worst-case scenario and makes you re-think any plans you might have made for summer break.
Based on a true story, Open Water follows a couple, Daniel (Daniel Travis) and Susan (Blanchard Ryan), as they embark on a vacation to some tropical location, which will become the worst vacation of their lives. One of the activities they plan on their trip is a dive in the beautiful ocean, and at 9:45 all the divers hit the water, except for Seth (Saul Stein), who forgets his mask. Some confusion ensues, which leaves Susan and Daniel stranded in the middle of the vastly large ocean.
They’ve been calling this film Blair Witch Project meets Jaws, and I’d say that’s pretty accurate for the most part. Open Water has the terror of the unknown like Blair Witch and the violent sharks like the king of sharks, Jaws. It also shares the low budget camerawork and editing style of Blair Witch; and at times you will find yourself a little “sea sick”- But at least this film has to do with the water!
The number one thing that makes this movie great is the character building- everyone who knows me knows that I think a movie is incomplete without some serious character building. How can you feel for the characters if you don’t know them? When you’ve seen their lives, and see how happy they are, it almost hurts you to see them in pain. After Kentis spends around 30 minutes introducing you to your new friends, he drops them in water and the anxiety attack instantly begins.
From the 30-40 minute mark, Kentis goes classic Hitchcock the entire rest of the way. He constantly gives us a taste of what’s to come, for example: we know they’re going to get left behind, and the way they get left behind slowly builds the tension because you know it’s coming. Finally when they’ve been left behind, Susan and Daniel surface, and are oblivious to what has just transpired- but we know! Watching the couple try and figure out what’s going on, and slowly understanding the severity of their situation, makes it very stressful on the viewers and very emotional, since you’ve been let into their lives earlier in the film.
After they’ve realized they are in ‘deep water’ (heh, you knew a bad joke was coming…), Kentis needs to move on to new ways of making this an exciting movie. He creates suspense in the element of surprise and unknown- something hurts Susan- but what was it? The Ocean is a huge place, with millions of different creatures lurking below its surface, so what exactly hurt her? She starts freaking out, and in turn we start freaking out because we have no clue what the hell is going on. The tension rises, the music builds, and Susan is screaming- everything spins out of control. Control, an element in a horror movie that is removed to create the problem and add a certain level of ‘fear’ to the movie. When everything becomes beyond Susan and Daniel ‘control’, that’s when the audience feels as helpless as Susan and Daniel.
Kentis’ camera work is also very Hitchcockian, just like when he showed us that they are going to get left behind, he also shows us something even more intense- sharks. He pulls the camera directly above Susan and Daniels heads, and as we looks down, we can see dozens of sharks swimming around them, preparing for a feast- we can see them- Susan and Daniel can only feel them swimming around. Kentis totally messes with us, he shows us things and we just want to scream at the screen, “don’t move!” or “swim for your lives!” Sometimes I wanted to curl up into a ball because the situations were so extreme, and SuperHeidi looked like she felt the same- she appeared to be very squeamish.
My only complaint is that after all of the tension and all of the suspense, each scene ended a little anti-climactic. But I understood that there were only two people in the movie, and you can’t kill them off, or you would have no movie.
The finale was amazing and made up for the lack of ‘extreme’, it had one of the coolest attack scenes I’ve ever witnessed. It’s pitch black, and the only thing lighting up the sky is lightening. Something is under them, they are screaming and thunder is crashing, and we only see little bits of what is going on. This scene leads to one of the most emotional finales of all time. Will they be saved? Help is on the way, right? Can they make it just a few hours more? You’re going to have to watch it this August to find out, because Open Water is one of the most thrilling and disturbing films I’ve seen in years. Open Water was picked up at the Sundance Festival 2004, along with Saw (review), Lions Gate Films has got quite a slate planned out for you over the next few years!