Preview by: Jack Foley
ONE of the success stories of this years 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 couples 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 pictures
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.
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
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."