“Open Water” floats the following irony: A young, burnt out couple, drifting aimlessly in shark- infested corporate waters, sneak away for a vacation, and find themselves drifting aimlessly in shark-infested open waters.
Imagine surfacing from a 40-minute SCUBA dive and finding only Open Water. No boat, no marker, no nothing. That’s the watery nightmare staring down Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), an unmarried couple who are about to make the biggest commitment of their lives. They’ll have to depend on each other and the elements to stay afloat and alive.
Then there’s the sharks. A flick of tail. A splash from behind. Something rubbing up against a leg. Shot on digital video by husband-wife team Chris Kentis (writer-director-photographer) and Laura Lau (producer-photographer), using real actors, and yes, real sharks, Open Water is a tidy exercise in nerve racking suspense.
Kentis uses digital video to the story’s advantage, giving the events a sense of immediacy. Most of the action takes place in the water, where Susan and Daniel slowly begin to realize their predicament. There’s very little set-up, some casual conversations on land, before we’re on the boat with Susan, Daniel and a horde of vacationing divers. A failsafe headcount at the end of the dive fails, leaving the couple stranded in the middle of the ocean.
Kentis isn’t out to make any grand statement about the human condition. He doesn’t care if his characters gain valuable insight from their ordeal. Like us, he just wants them to get through it. Ryan and Travis, making his debut, are such effective actors we easily slip into their character’s lives. This allows Kentis to drop them in the middle of the ocean for 60 minutes and expect us to give a damn.
We do. As time and the elements begin to their toll on Susan and Daniel, we want to throw them a lifeline. When they see ships pass on the horizon, we desperately want to signal them. When the thrashing fins start piercing the waterline, we fear what lies below. Like the Gambler, Kentis knows when to show them, opting to keep us as much in the dark as Susan and Daniel. Everyone involved, from the characters on the screen to the audience in theater, know this is one case where what you can’t see will not only hurt you, but eat you.
Open Water proves that in the right hands, with the right actors and premise, effective thrillers films don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
BAIT AND SWITCHDivers surface to watery nightmare
Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis. Directed by Chris Kentis. Rated R. 79 Minutes.
LARSEN RATING: $6.00