fish tale of a movie like "Open Water"
is bound to be gutted by some. Opinions vary widely among both critics and
audiences on whether "Open Water" is a watershed or waterlogged.
We'll get back to my thoughts on that in a moment. For now, let me just say
that I will not step foot in so much as a kiddie pool without a cell phone
and a stun gun ever again.
It seems to me that when you cut
open this particular shark flick, you've got to take a good look inside its
unique belly – and what you'll find is the handheld digital shooting
technique employed by writer/director/editor Chris Kentis. No crew, no
special effects, and no computer manipulation.
In terms of its significance to moviemaking, the film opens the floodgates
for other low-budget films to be produced in the same cost-effective manner.
Here again, there will be diverging schools of thought. Some will say
boo-yah! – this breakthrough may yield the next Spielberg now that the
multi-million dollar film production landscape has been leveled. Others will
be less than enamored with the notion that now any assclown with a video
camera can start making features about his third grade birthday party.
Even though I'm a registered cynic, I'm with the first school. Still, I
caution all prospective auteurs to use the technology wisely. Digital
shooting lends itself well to this intimate study of two people in peril
after their scuba boat leaves them stranded in the Caribbean ocean. The
voyeuristic feel adds to the inherent tension in this particular story.
However, the limitations of digital are glaring in the opening sequence,
while the happy couple is still at home. As a result, the director has to
bend over backwards to get angles that mask the home video production value.
It is only when he hits the camera-friendly beaches and ocean that digital
begins to work for him. Films lacking such grand scenery and the need for
intimacy may not fare as well.
Varying accounts of the film's budget are floating around out there, but
most estimates seem to tag "Open Water" at about $150,000 – or
roughly what Sean Penn spends on cigarettes in one movie. In my book,
pulling off a movie this taut and compelling for that kind of cash is
Oh yeah, the story itself.
Susan and Daniel (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis)
are a couple looking to get away from it all – a request their travel
agent may have taken a bit too far. As everyone knows by now, their boat
abandons them. Things move slowly for a half hour or so leading up to the
fateful moment. Sure, some complain that Kentis should have cut to the
chase sooner, but if he had left them deserted in the ocean in the first
ten minutes, there would be no emotional investment by the audience in the
fate of the characters.
Even still, I expected a little more terror and a little less talkiness
once the couple found themselves in their predicament. But the more I
thought about it, the more their reactions seemed natural. Their emotions
run the gamut: hopeful that someone will come back, terrified that they'll
become shark bait, angry at the boat driver, frustrated with each other,
and scared that they won't make it through the night. I've never faced the
prospect of a shark nipping at my nads, but that sounds about right to me.
For a few minutes, I couldn't help but think that maybe the two snippy
yuppies deserved what they were getting. But that quickly passed, as I
entered "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy territory" (not
even Andy Dick). And once they stopped annoying me, I actually began to
like both characters. So Kentis got what he wanted – I was right there
with them in the water.
Now, I won't give away the ending as some reviewers no doubt will (that's
the kind of thing middle-aged geeks who live with their moms tend to do),
but I'll tell you that it rocked me. So much so that I'm giving the film
another full star because of it. I recommend this film for a ton of
reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that we may look back on
"Open Water" as one of the films that took digital shooting from
amateur-hour to the big-time.