What would you do if you found yourself stranded in the middle of the ocean, miles from shore, surrounded by big sharks and no help in sight? That’s what happens in the indie thriller Open Water due out this summer from Lion’s Gate.
From the opening scenes it is apparent that this film is a digitally shot independent feature. It’s not tough to notice the graininess and subtle realism that usually accompanies independent films, and Open Water is no exception. It seems to have an incredible amount of talent backing it, which is no doubt why it got picked up for theater distribution. From the amazing acting, sharp no-nonsense direction, and the use of (real) sharks, it’s not hard to see that the filmmakers cut out the bullshit and gave the viewers (finally!) a frightening, smart thriller that makes sense.
When a young couple vacation in Mexico, it’s to ease their wounded relationship. There is tenseness between them that is reiterated throughout the film. Though it’s slow going in the beginning, instead of getting bored the viewer reacts with “Great setup, I wonder for what?” attitude. After the initial character development and plot fillers of the first 15 minutes, Open Water is all about the action. When the couple gets left in the ocean during a routine scuba diving trip, they surface to find that their companions have disappeared, stranding them in the middle of nowhere with no way to call for help. At this point the viewer has so much invested in these characters that it’s gut-wrenching to watch them suffer over such a careless and preventable oversight. The things that made us most afraid of Jaws make this film sheer horror to watch, but this time they are tempered with more skill, suspense, and realism. Open Water does more than just shove sharks in your face- it makes all aspects of the water frightening. What’s scary is not so much the blood or the pain (though that is, at times, difficult to watch) but how real it is; the settings, the acting, and the emotions explode off the screen in a way that big Hollywood filmmakers can only dream of.
This is not an ordinary disaster film. There is a deep emotional connection between the main characters and their problems play out on deeper levels through the dialogue and the mounting tension. Their frustration with one another grows as their situation gets worse, and, for once, we see a realistic shark attack. Open Water is drama, horror, and survival film all in one. If this isn’t the most successful and acclaimed independent film of the summer of 2004, then I’ll go strand myself in shark-infested. It’s that good.