I was somewhat disturbed and disappointed when I heard someone finally made a film on a story which blew me away years early after witnessing it on Dateline or some such news program. I expected some twisted mind would bring it to the screen. Kudos to the filmmakers but I hope they feel a little dirty as they walk down the red carpet for the exploitation they’ve committed.
Effective and lyrical at times, but never totally implausible, Open Water is about a power couple tossing away the traps of everyday life. All seems postcardesque. Let loose, get a little R & R thorough a vacation to the Bahamas.
To say they got more than they bargained for would be the joke of the century.
How about not being left behind by the tour boat guiding your scuba dive in the wild blue sea. Not too much to ask for, right?
For Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) their every move becomes a sad swan song to shortened lives. What seems to be a relaxing break from the everyday pressures of life turns darkly sinister. Sounding like something a drunken Hollywood junior development executive would come up with, scarily in the case of Open Water, this is all based upon real events.
You wonder where the couple got the strength and fortitude to survive past the first few minutes without totally freaking out. Their guide boat is nowhere in sight after lovely, picturesque travels below the sea. The very animals they marveled at earlier are now mortal enemies.
The couple’s situational immediacy is always a certain force. Every fateful moment is intimately documented. I did begin to wonder how long the real couple lasted off the coastal waters of Australia.
Suspenseful tension is created by forcing audiences to await the inevitable bickering, blaming scene. When it does arrive, you feel bad for the doomed couple. The predicament and their predictably expected behavior is sad to the core.
To the couple’s credit it takes a while for them to turn against each other and their communication to reach such vitriolic proportions. Confident at first, they then slowly fall apart. Where the tension lies is that each moment could possibly be their last.
The ever positive, emotionally naked Daniel (subtly joking about a shark biting Susan’s leg) finally cracks after a close encounter with a shark, “We paid to do this!” It provides cathartic solace to the humorous absurdity and adds to the film’s impact.
The film treads along at a steady pace and though there is minimum character development that is an unnecessary critique. For a 79 minute film, it’s both brisk and economic in story/character development, never opting for the easy use of flashbacks or voice-over narration.
Part of the film’s potency is that as you look back after the film ends, it's genuinely affecting.
One of the phenomena of watching films is when you want to look back after a film ends. This film forces you to do so - to look back: at the couple forgoing one last chance for carnal knowledge to arise early for the dive; at the guy wrongly counting the number of couples.
Here is a different type of conflicted situation. Two people. Hell on earth. Unimaginable hell. Unimaginable even when known to be a true story.
Sadly, an all hands on deck search party is sent out after the couple’s backpack diver gear ID is found - intercut against their final moments. Who knows how close they may have been but it's too little too late either way.
The last shot, a long poignant take of the wife, is undoubtedly a most powerful image. The stark reality of the fate she chooses is unsettling yet entirely fitting. A similar image immediately came to mind, reminding me of another woman’s poetic choice, confidently plunging off a mountain in Last of the Mohicans.
The coda film footage accompanying the credits reveals one last devastating coincidence.
Simple incompetence cost two people their lives. And for cinematic purposes, this should never be forgotten - especially for the idiot who yelled “bullshit”, after the screening I attended.
The digital imagery works solidly for the film’s simplistic visual roots. An inspired minimalist score/celebatory hymns wonderfully guides the tension, conveying the sense of urgent realism, eerily punctuating key moments, every musical beat working in concert with the ominous natural sound used throughout much of the film.
© by Julian Boyance, completed Sept 3, 2004
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