Open Water

By Jimmy Billingham

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water... Shot on DV for a fraction of the cost of Hollywood's usual fair, Open Water is an immensely effective suspense film that'll ensure you never think it's safe again. Ever. In much the same vein as The Blair Witch Project, Open Water is shot vérité-style, playing on fears of isolation and vulnerability in the midst of a wilderness.

The film is based on the true story of an American couple who went on a diving trip to the great barrier reef only to be accidentally left behind in the middle of the shark-infested ocean. Their bodies were never found. Such a chilling story was always going to make for good cinema, but in the hands of director, writer, cinematographer and editor Kentis, it becomes a particularly haunting and unnerving nightmare of vulnerability and solitude.

Swapping Australia for the Caribbean and a distinctly average looking couple for the routinely bronzed and beautiful Susan (Blanchard Ryan), and Daniel (Daniel Travis), Open Water initially fails to provoke much sympathy for the annoyingly wholesome pair (indeed, the opening scenes have a slight porno feel to them, what with the hotel interiors, low-budget production and tanned flesh). Bring on the sharks was my first thought. And Kentis certainly does that. First the odd fin breaks the surface, then a thrashing tail, and by this point you are right there with them: seeing what they see above the surface, fearing what's below, waiting for the inevitable. Allowing the viewer a respite the stranded couple never got, Kentis intersperses these undulating shots with beautifully photographed cloudscapes, shimmering waves and happy holidaymakers, emphasising the desperate situation of Susan and Daniel, for life goes on around them regardless. And when the alarm is eventually raised, a search party is launched, cloaked in silence as if to accentuate its futility, recalling the bleak conclusion to Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

Deftly paced and taut throughout, Open Water makes for a gripping 79 minutes. Though essentially a one-trick film, Kentis pulls it off with great aplomb, realistically depicting scenes of spiralling despair as the utter helplessness of their situation kicks in – from disbelief, to bickering and blaming, to full-on panic attacks, as the couple struggle to cope with the horrifyingly simplistic misfortune that has befallen them. Kentis draws on our fundamental fears of hidden depths, predation and isolation to great effect. Visceral cinema at its best.
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