Sharks--we love to be scared of ‘em. Ever since Steven Spielberg’s Jaws set the cinematic bar in 1975, we can’t see a shark without John Williams’ famous theme throbbing in our heads. A classic, that movie will forever be the standard all other shark movies are compared to. So how does Chris Kentis’ micro-budgeted shark tale compare? Well, it can’t, but even without the comparison, Open Water doesn’t quite work, even though I really wanted it to.
The story, based on actual events, is brilliant in its simplicity. Two yuppies on holiday (Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan) go on a group dive, only to be left behind due to a diver miscount (although I kept waiting for someone to say “Where’s the hot blonde?”). When the couple surface, the boat has left, and they are left bobbing in the open sea to fend for themselves. At first they are calm, and then the sharks start poking around…
Shot on digital video, Open Water has gained a lot of hype due to the fact that the actors were in the water with real sharks, attracted by the crew dumping bloody tuna nearby. This makes for some great shots (one shows Ryan floating on her back while a 6-foot shark passes just beneath her), and real suspense. Still, you’ve to wonder, how do you make a movie about two people treading water interesting?
This is where the movie falters. Just when you get involved in the story and the tension really mounts, Kentis throws something in to totally kill it. The first time it’s a completely unbelievable scene of the two trying to blame each other for their situation. It doesn’t fit, the acting is awful, and it only seems to exist as the setup for a punch line (“I wanted to go skiing…”). Another time he cuts back to the mainland to show that the couple has been discovered missing. Kentis seems to lack a basic understanding of suspense: when you’ve got your audience in a vise, you don’t let them relax--you turn the screw.
Since the story is lacking, we are not left with much. Travis and Ryan are okay as actors, but underdeveloped as characters, which doesn’t let us care about them living or dying. The camerawork is of the shaky-cam variety, which may work in small doses, but feels overused here.
It’s too bad the filmmakers couldn’t do more with this premise, because it’s a good one. Ultimately, however, the movie lacks the real bite it had the potential to deliver. The sharks sure are cool though.