Forget about malfunctioning mechanical sharks. Open Water--a little indie gem part Blair Witch Project, part Jaws--uses the real things, to chillingly horrifying effect.
Loosely based on true events, Open Water centers on an American couple, Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), whose hectic lives warrant a much-needed vacation to an island resort. Soon the two are relaxing on the beach, eating, trying on silly hats in the marketplace--and booking a scuba diving day on a beautiful reef. Once there, the couple, who are experienced divers prone to exploring on their own, end up straying from the dive boat and through a miscalculation by the boat captain, get left behind. Floating up sometime later, Susan and Daniel find themselves alone. No divers. No boat. Just vast, shark-infested waters miles from shore. Thus begins their longest journey together, as the pair drifts and bobs in an endless sea, waiting for some kind of rescue and battling the elements above--and, more importantly, below--the surface. [Cue Jaws theme here].
Open Water's only real flaws are in the acting. That isn't to say relative unknowns Ryan and Travis don't do a more than adequate job showing Susan and Daniel's gut-wrenching terror at their dire situation. No Method acting here, folks; submerging yourself in the water with real sharks (and getting paid scale to do it) is enough to invoke fear in anyone. It's only in exposition--as Susan and Daniel get to the island, have their little squabbles, get too tired to make love and kill flying mosquitoes in their hotel room--does the actors' inexperience flare up. The scenes are awkward, the dialogue stiff. Even when Susan and Daniel have a blowout while bobbing in the water about whose fault it is that they are in this predicament, it comes off a tad too forced. Ryan, however, redeems herself in the end, as emotions dance across her face when Susan is faced with making an ultimate decision.
You might be asking, honestly, how scary can it be watching two people float around in the ocean? Under the guidance of writer/director Chris Kentis (Grind) and his wife, producer and director of photography Laura Lau, pretty darn frightening, let me tell you. There's not one computer-generated sea predator in the bunch--oh no, these are the real McCoy. The filmmakers made use of 45-50 mostly gray reef sharks, averaging seven to eleven feet in length, at a dive spot some 20 miles off the Bahamas coast to achieve the heart-stopping terror. It works. Certified divers themselves, they were the film's only crew (save for a few shark wranglers), filming the grainy footage on weekends and holidays on a shoestring budget. The ubiquitous and beautiful ocean itself turned out to be the third ''crew member,'' so say Kentis and Lau (adding that they'd have fired it for being moody if they could). Kentis utilizes the guerilla-style filmmaking techniques made popular by the smash indie The Blair Witch Project, an obvious influence, for optimum shiver-producing results. Particularly effective is the nighttime scene in which the screen is totally black save for a few flashes of lightening that give just the briefest glimpse of what's going on, and we hear rather than see the couple scream and struggle to stay away from the lurking sharks. Open Water certainly isn't going to be good for the scuba-diving business.
As a self-proclaimed shark-movie junkie who may get the heebie-jeebies dangling my legs in the ocean but loves to see the man-eating fish terrorized humans just the same, Open Water brilliantly taps into that ultimate fear of what lurks down below.