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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 world’s 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 film’s 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 ‘I’m 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. What’s happened? Where is everyone? Why have they left? Must not realise that we are missing. Don’t panic, keep calm, they’ll soon realise were missing and come back for us. Good thinking, again good training. The tension build up is slow and gradual but it’s there. For the next few minutes, nothing happens, literally nothing happens. Both characters continue to float above the waves still trying to figure out what’s happened. The cameraman again takes note of the time, two or so hours have gone by. The manual comes out again. Don’t drink sea water. Here’s 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? Don’t panic. They’ll 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, we’ll never make. There’s 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, it’s shark time. The audience has grabbed the back of the seat in front. No such luck. This isn’t the ‘Jaws’ monster leaping out of the sea and gobbling off Daniel’s head. We’re 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 Daniel’s leg. Yes. A shark has had a slight go. But how? Did it bite or did it just brush? It’s 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. Don’t splash. Keep calm. There are more than one shark now swimming around the couple. It’s 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 couple’s 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. It’s too late!

It’s 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.

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