The International Writers Magazine: Film Review
Dir Chris Kentis
Blanchard Ryan .... Susan
Daniel Travis .... Daniel
Saul Stein.... Seth
Estelle Lau .... Estelle
Review by James Skinner
Whenever I go to the movies to see a film that is advertised as
based on fact I become very weary. Braveheart,
a film about the life, or was it legend of Sir William Wallace, the
Scott who had a go at the English in the XIII century is a case in point.
Apart from his victory at the Battle of Sterling and the eventual scattering
of his body in a million pieces all over Britain at the end of his life,
the rest is Mel Gibson hogwash. As for other historical epics that end
up on celluloid such as King Arthur, Robin Hood, Captain Bligh the same
applies. Distortion of facts to suit the audience and satisfy the box
office tills. Even Casablanca, one of the most famous of
movies ever made, had its origin on true events that occurred in WWII
during the occupation of France that caused the flight of thousands
of refugees to Portugal via Morocco that was still unaffected by the
Nazis. Rick and Elsa could have been anybody. But Open Water
is another matter. As the name obviously implies, it has something to
do with the water.
Diving, like many other world sports is considered as high risk.
It involves a great deal of theoretical and practical training such
as breathing through regulators fed by compressed air tanks, reading
depth gauges and compasses and above all knowing and respecting the
infinite dangers that entail plunging into the depths of the worlds
numerous rivers, lakes or seas. A diver must also learn how to control
emotions and not panic when faced with unknown perils on a diving expedition.
Breakdown of equipment, decompression sickness known as the bends, fatigue
and even loneliness in open waters are part of the disciplines that
are acquired by a diver before he or she even attempts to investigate
the beauties below the ocean. I should know, as I was, at one time in
my complex life a so-called certified diver. There are other
factors involved that do not appear in technical manuals and these are
tourist precautions. Disciplined teamwork is essential for safety reasons.
Never dive alone and always make sure that your buddy is
within reach should you run into trouble. But when you are on holiday
and are eager to tickle the belly of a blue fish or take a snapshot
of a moray eel, you tend to leave behind some of the drummed in teachings
that gave you the certificate in the first place.
Such was the case of an American, modern day couple of executives (played
by Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) that went on a diving holiday in
a Caribbean island. On their first day out with a group of twenty or
so fellow divers they overspent their time limit in the water. Due to
the miscount of the returning frogmen by the skipper of the boat, these
two unfortunate human beings were left behind and abandoned in mid ocean.
Despite a massive search, twenty-four hours later, they were never found.
Open Water is a film based on assumptions. Real assumptions.
It does not invent any sidetracking sub-plot, nor does it flash back
to a fabricated love affair. Blanchard and Daniel were real people.
Their tragedy was a real tragedy. It was in all the papers. The facts
are plain, simple and straightforward. Two divers, lost at sea,
never to be seen again. What Chris Kentis, the films writer
and director has cleverly done is reproduce in the minds of all viewers
the build up of the eventual breakdown of will power of these human
beings as they are faced with the inevitability of death. Apart from
the initial scenes of the couple arriving joyfully on their holiday,
with the usual tit-tat of I forgot to charge my mobile!
the boat trip and dive into the ocean, and a few scene changes such
as reverting to diffused Reggae dancing on the beach, the rest of the
film is entirely focused on these two souls bobbing about in the ocean,
literally lost in Open Water, as they hopefully await a
non-existent rescue attempt.
Cool and calm they are first shown on their ascent from the deep after
frolicking on the ocean bed tickling blue fish and photographing
the moray eel. As they reach the surface and look around them they notice
that there are no boats or other divers anywhere in sight. The look
of bewilderment on their faces is impact; shear emotional impact, no
other word. The cameraman takes note of the time. The drama begins.
First reaction is to cling together. Good training. They revert to the
manual and test the Im in trouble signal by waving
their arms in the instructed manner. Yet no one is about. Second reaction
is to take stock of the situation. Whats happened? Where is everyone?
Why have they left? Must not realise that we are missing. Dont
panic, keep calm, theyll soon realise were missing and come back
for us. Good thinking, again good training. The tension build up is
slow and gradual but its there. For the next few minutes, nothing
happens, literally nothing happens. Both characters continue to float
above the waves still trying to figure out whats happened. The
cameraman again takes note of the time, two or so hours have gone by.
The manual comes out again. Dont drink sea water. Heres
a few gums to chew. I need to pee. Go ahead. Feels warm. More time goes
by. Although the audience is still waiting for something to happen it
is poised on the edge of its seats. A slight splash in the water. What
was that? Dont panic. Theyll soon come and fetch us. The
cameraman again gives us the time. More hours have passed. Action begins.
A yacht and later a container ship are in sight. They start waving again
but it is useless. Out comes the manual. No use swimming towards them,
well never make. Theres that splash again and bang! Hey
something hit my leg. Bang again! The camera shows us a blurred grey
silhouette just below the surface. Yes, its shark time. The audience
has grabbed the back of the seat in front. No such luck. This isnt
the Jaws monster leaping out of the sea and gobbling off
Daniels head. Were back to the couple clinging to each other
in a pose of what else is in the manual. I feel a pain.
Ouch! The camera goes below the water. Small fish are nibbling at a
cut in Daniels leg. Yes. A shark has had a slight go. But how?
Did it bite or did it just brush? Its fault blaming time. Should
never have come, it was your fault. The audience relaxes. Then the sharks
begin to take over as the real protagonists of the film.
Anyone who knows anything about sharks knows that their feeding habits
follow a common pattern. This is where Kentis is a master film director.
The combination of the divers knowledge, their now confirmed anxiety
at being left to their peril, and the shark ritual sensing prey is superb.
Dont splash. Keep calm. There are more than one shark now swimming
around the couple. Its a whole submarine navy. Still no real attack.
Daniel slowly takes out his diving knife. First signs of panic. Knives
are useless against sharks. He is hit hard by one of them. He screams
and drops the knife. The sea turns dark red. It hurts. God it hurts!
Susan just holds him. The camera catches a close up of her face. Perfect
expression of fear.
There is a break, as we are shown the following morning, the skipper
of the yacht discovering the couples non-diving gear including
identification. A check at the hotel room shows that no one has slept
there. Alarm bells ring and a whole flurry of rescue teams shoot out
to sea in search of our heroes. Its too late!
Its no use. Daniel is agonising. The sharks are waiting. Susan
finally lets go of him. He is now dead. She allows his body to float
away. The sharks move in and devour the corpse. A new close up reveals
the expression of a young woman accepting her fate. She rids herself
of her diving gear, takes a deep breath and dives below the water.
Conclusion: No special effects. No gorish scenes. No fictitious drama.
Just plain, simple, gripping tension throughout.
© James Skinner. September 2004.
all rights reserved