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Open Water - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

ONE of the success stories of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was the film Open Water, a taut thriller about a husband and wife pair of scuba divers who are left alone, in shark-infested waters, by an absent-minded tour guide.

The movie is based on a true story and, according to the Sundance website, ‘is so raw and chilling you may find yourself clinging to the festivalgoer next to you’.

It adds: "Using the endless lapping waves of an infinite blue ocean as his canvas, writer/director/ cinematographer Chris Kentis paints a terrifying portrait of primitive human fears and intimate survival in Open Water, the astonishing project washed up from the shores of the truly independent underground."

The film, which eschews all the virtues of independent film-making, features an unapologetically tight lens on the drifting couple, along with photography that uses no digital effects - a ploy which serves to heighten the tension of the couple’s predicament, as well as prompting its audience to ask the question, ‘what would I do?’

Adds the Sundance website: "In a culture obsessed with real-life pain and suffering, Open Water is fresh and original because it transcends a campfire story, leaving you with an all-too-realistic feeling of human fragility in the face of the natural world. You may never go swimming again; you've been warned."

According to other web-related reports, the actors, Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Daniel Travis, actually allowed the filmmakers to attract sharks with bait, which serves to heighten the picture’s natural realism.

Open Water performed so well at the film festival, that Lion's Gate (the self-styled ‘ champion of great and low-budget horror’) snapped up the rights to the film almost immediately.

As a result, the film will open in about 1,000 US screens in August, with a UK release to follow soon after.

As another movie website predicts, ‘this movie could do for scuba diving what Jaws did for swimming’.

 

US reaction

It looks likely to become of the talking points of the year, both in terms of independent movie-making and horror efficiency, but it has certainly left critics divided in the States.

Open Water - about a husband and wife scuba diving couple who get left behind in shark-infested waters - opened in the US on Friday (August 6, 2004) and had critics either singing its praises as the next Blair Witch Project, or expressing extreme disappointment.

Rolling Stone lands in the positive camp, stating that ‘you can feel the water, stretching against an unsheltering sky, seep into your bones’.

As does the Philadelphia Inquirer, which felt that ‘Open Water is so deeply terrifying, so primal in its depiction of man at the mercy of nature, that watching it shakes you to the core’.

Better still was the New York Observer, which declared it to be ‘one of the most galvanizing and unforgettable films of the year’.

But Village Voice leads the negative camp, describing it as ‘simply a stunt - hopelessly literal-minded and cheap in every sense’.

While the Los Angeles Times felt it is ‘an expertly made suspense thriller based on an actual incident, but on a visceral level it's about as much fun as watching someone pull the wings off a butterfly’.

The New York Times went one worse, stating that ‘this minimalist thriller evokes some deep and primal fears, but it is ultimately too under-dramatised to provoke anything more intense than squirming discomfort’.

The Hollywood Reporter concluded that ‘clearly, this one will divide viewers, but the vote here is that Open Water is an unpleasant experience’.

Returning to the positives, however, and USA Today wrote that it is ‘a tiny movie about ocean fears that will flush that overrated The Blair Witch Project 20,000 leagues under the sea’.

And Reelviews, which wrote that ‘despite its flaws, I welcome Open Water with great enthusiasm, because it offers genuine scares and chills without the self-aware, packaged feel of many horror/thriller films’.

Efilmcritic.com was also impressed, stating that ‘Open Water is horribly and blissfully intense, the sort of grass-roots thriller that will have you squirming in your seat as each successive dorsal fin breaks the waves’.

And Newsday found it to be ‘a gut-clutching plunge into primal-fear territory that is no less unsettling for having been made on a flipper and a prayer’.

The final word, however, goes to Slant Magazine, which concludes this overview by stating: "When Susan wonders if it’s scarier seeing or not seeing the sharks around them, she may as well be talking to the audience."

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