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Movie Review: Open Water

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There has been one good thing about the failure of many of the big budget summer films, it has opened up more avenues for the independent films to get to a wider audience. Films like this one, Garden State, and Napoleon Dynamite have been able to sneak into a good number of theaters around the country. I’m not saying this as a definite statement of quality, but it is giving them an opportunity to sink or swim with a larger audience, giving filmmakers a better chance to be seen. That said, I thought this was a good film, definitely worth seeing, but also flawed.

By now I am sure most of you are familiar with the basic story, which is based on true events. Remember, this is only based on, it is not supposed to be the actual events, kind of like taking a story and being inspired by it to make you’re own work. For those who are not yet familiar with it, it follows a couple on vacation, who go scuba diving, and upon returning to the surface find that their tour boat has left them behind. They end up alone in shark infested waters. The big question being, will they be found? Sorry, not going to answer that one for you.

The movie runs just shy of 80 minutes, and even at that short length it drags at points, that being the biggest downfall. The early scenes set up what is to come nicely. Daniel and Susan are a couple on well deserved vacation, in the early scenes you are left with a sense that they are having difficulties balancing work and their relationship and need the time to unwind. While on a scuba tour, the guides make a mistake in the headcount and return to their port. Daniel and Susan surface to nothing. This is where tension builds.

There they are floating in the water, no one around. Occasionally they are brushed by something swimming in the water beneath them, or a shark fin breaking the surface. This is where it gets interesting, we watch them at first freak out a bit about what’s going on, then the stages change, the get closer, then the argue over whose fault it is, then back to love. It flows very believably between the emotions. All the while the danger increases as the undersea critters start getting friendlier.

I remember thinking that something bad has to happen or else this whole exercise will be a let down. Of course something bad does happen, and the film twists in a way that I didn’t predict making it that much more frightening. I don’t want to imply that this movie is terribly scary, it isn’t, although there are moments of great tension. The implications, the very idea of this situation is frightening.

Like I mentioned earlier this movie is dragged down by some sluggishness. That isn’t helped by the lead actress, Blanchard Ryan, as I didn’t find her to be that great an actress. She seemed to struggle staying in character the whole time, I was too aware of here being an actress rather than being Susan. Daniel Travis, who plays Daniel, is much better at keeping the believability factor up. Another issue was the use of some musical cues, at a few points they use some bluegrass styled music, which would seem more at home in O Brother, Where Art Thou? than here. There are also a few sequences with montages of water, or people which seemed to unnaturally lengthen the film, as if they needed to pad it out to an acceptable feature length. There is also a sequence earlier on where Susan is lying in bed nude for the audience to see. This didn’t really serve any purpose in the film, I have no problem with nudity in film, it has its place, but this was not one of them. It just seemed tacked on to appeal to some base instincts, I don’t know. I just know that it really wasn’t needed.

The movie experience can be likened to that of The Blair Witch Project. If you go into the film and watch impassively, just watching the film without involving yourself, you will probably not really like it. This is more of an experience than a film, if you go in with the position that you will let yourself get wrapped up in the experience, you will probably identify with the situation a lot more, therefore feeling a stronger effect. At least, that is a bit of a theory I have on watching movies.

Considering the budget and the novice filmmakers involved, it is an impressive feat. The low quality of the film gives it a grittier, more documentarian feel, increasing the immediacy of the situation. Of course, you could just say that’s all they could afford, but it does work for the movie. The real sharks also add to the realism as you know you’re not looking at an animatronic. There are also some great shots such as a few overhead shots where you see the characters looking around and behind and beneath them you see the bodies of sharks slide by, unknown to them that they are there. Also, when the camera straddles the surface and just beneath, you see Daniel and Susan, calm, but beneath you see multiple sharks swimming right next to them.

Bottomline. It is a good movie, an interesting experiment in psychology, without being completely successful. It is better than a lot of other films that have been out this summer. It shouldn’t necessarily be touted as the next great example of independent cinema, but it does have a great visceral effect on a viewer, especially in the second half leading up to a climax that I was not expecting. I walked out of the film a bit shellshocked over what I had just seen the final fifteen minutes. I would have to say, yes you should see this movie.
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