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Open Water (2003)

Who Will Save You?

Open Water
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Call me wacky, but the idea of being left alone out in the middle of the ocean is a scenario that I've thought a good bit about. I've often pondered what I'd do in certain life-and-death situations, and being stranded in the ocean has always been one of the most frightening ones I could think of. Why do I contemplate such things? You see, when you have luck as bad as mine, it's good to prepare yourself for these worst-case scenarios because right now in Vegas, I'm sure those in-the-know are layin' the lumber on me floating out in the Atlantic come this time next summer.

The nightmare that I've only thought about becomes reality for a vacationing couple on an island getaway in Open Water. Daniel (Daniel Travis) and Susan (Blanchard Ryan) lead hectic lives and desperately need a vacation. Their vacation goes awry (sounds a lot like my vacations) while open-water scuba diving. After frolicking with all the underwater sea creatures, their fun abruptly ends when they surface to find that their guide boat has left them. Why did it leave? Is it coming back? Will they ever make it back to the island? Daniel and Susan are cold, alone, miles from land, and now adrift in shark-infested waters. Their only support now is with each other.

Open Water is based loosely on the true events surrounding the disappearance of Thomas and Eileen Lonergan, an American couple who were left behind during a dive off of the Great Barrier Reef in Northern Queensland, Australia in 1998. The error was due to the Lonergans' dive details not being entered into the boat's divemaster's log book and a possible botched head count. Over 48 hours after the couple were left behind, the crew of the Outer Edge realized their error and a search was issued with 17 aircraft, helicopters, and boats. The Lonergans were never found and many rumors of their ultimate fate have surfaced since. Talks of marriage trouble provided the theory that that they committed suicide, or a murder-suicide took place. Another scenario has the Lonergans using the dive boat as part of an elaborate hoax to fake their deaths. Most diving experts, however, believe that they died on the reef. A few weeks after they'd gone missing, some of the couple's personal dive gear washed up on a beach 75 miles from the dive site. Six months later, a weathered dive slate - used to communicate underwater - with contact information for Eileen's father and the words, ""[Mo]nday Jan 26; 1998 08am. To anyone [who] can help us: We have been abandoned on A[gin]court Reef by MV Outer Edge 25 Jan 98 3pm. Please help us [come] to rescue us before we die. Help!!!"

While nobody will ever know what truly happened to the Lonergans, Open Water takes a stab at one possible scenario. This is not, however, meant to explain the story of the Lonergans. It is simply a fictional tale based "loosely" on their tragic story. The location is left intentionally ambiguous and no characters are based on real people. Shot completely on digital video, Open Water may be a very new experience for many watching it on the big screen. The audio is simply horrendous in parts, and much of it looks like you're watching your in-law's boring vacation video. Though, I think it's akin to watching a film with subtitles. It's a bit distracting at first, but soon you won't even notice it. For a film such as this, combined with the real sharks, it has a much more "real" feel to it. It's believable, and for the most part, I was immersed in the story and their dilemma, and could ignore the shaky cam and technical shortcomings.

Because of the way it was filmed and the fact that the budget was similar, I've already heard Open Water being compared to The Blair Witch project. Let's get it straight now, Open Water bares no resemblance to the waste of film that was The Blair Witch Project. The characters in Open Water are much more real, and the story is infinitely more believable. It succeeds, where Blair Witch fails, by producing at least a shred of genuine tension. I actually jumped a time or two during Open Water whereas watching Blair Witch is about the equivalent to popping a few valium.

It must also be said that this is not a shark movie, though it's not surprising that many are buying tickets with that in mind, seeing that Lions Gate has marketed it that way. It will end up getting people into the theater, but ultimately may backfire as audiences will feel like they were mislead. The sharks are important to the story, but really, they take a back seat to the third main character of the film, the water itself. The ocean serves as the biggest antagonist in the film. They're stuck in it, they can't drink it, it houses innumerable dangers underneath (including sharks), and they're completely at its mercy. They're going to go where its currents want to take them.

If you think about it, Open Water really has some deep (ha!) themes to its story. It reminds us of man's place on Earth, and our place in the food chain. It reminds us of how fragile we really are in relation the vastness and power of nature. Or, it could just be that director Chris Kentis, an avid diver himself, is manifesting, on film, the worst possible scenario that he can think of when it comes to scuba diving.

So if it's not The Blair Witch Project, and it's not Jaws, what it is it? It definitely stands on its own, but ultimately doesn't live up to the hype surrounding it. It's a good film. Could it have been great? I think so. Spending even 5 to 10 minutes more exploring the relationship between Daniel and Susan would have done wonders to build empathy towards their eventual plight. For starters, I didn't even know whether they were married or not for most of the movie. With such little character depth, I can understand if some find their panicked bickering a little off-putting and many may even be rooting for the sharks at the end. And perhaps it was purposeful, but the dialogue was overly simplistic. I kept expecting some really interesting conversations, possibly some real introspection among the couple, but it never came. There was a great opportunity to create some powerful and emotional moments, but they were only mildly successful.

So do they survive? Of course. A really hot mermaid swims by and escorts them back to the island, and lucky for Daniel, her only request for payment is in sexual favors. No...wait, that's the way that I had always figured I'd get out of the jam. Come on, you know I'd never spoil the ending.

I don't think everyone will like Open Water. In fact, some people will hate it. Marketing it as a great shark movie may ultimately annoy audiences after it's all said and done. Whether LGF actually cares or not, who knows. While not a great film, at least it's original and a little different. It does give off a certain amount of uneasiness and helplessness, which at times can have you on the edge of your seat. And afterwards, maybe you won't feel so bad having to go back to your crappy 9 to 5 job everyday. That everyday tedium and our unsteady relationships are often taken for granted, just keep telling yourself, "At least I'm not stuck in the middle of the ocean surrounded by sharks," and your day will go much better. Now let's hope I don't slip on some bait and fall overboard next time I go deep sea fishing!


(Out of 5)
August 6, 2004 (limited)
August 20, 2004 (wide)

Don't expect Jaws. Don't even expect Deep Blue Sea. If you can do that, and don't mind the low-budget look and feel, than you'll probably enjoy Open Water. Just bring your Dramamine.
1. Never be late to meet up with your guideboat.
2. Don't stray from the other scuba divers.
3. Don't bleed around sharks.
-"We have a story we're going to be telling for the rest of our lives."
-"We're stuck in the middle of the ocean! "
-"Oh God! Something's rubbing against my foot!"
-"I wanted to go skiing!"

Chris Kentis (Grind)
Chris Kentis (Grind)
Estelle Lau
Laura Lau (Grind)
Blanchard Ryan Susan
Daniel Travis Daniel
Saul Stein Seth
Estelle Lau Estelle
Michael E. Williamson Davis
Cristina Zenarro Linda
John Charles Junior
Plunge Pictures
Lions Gate Films
United States
79 mins R

While the film's resort locale was left intentionally ambiguous as to not hurt tourism at a "real" location, the actual filming took place in the Bahamas. Filming was done on weekends and holidays.
No digital or special effects were used in the film. Tame sharks and well-timed bait were used to create the film's shark footage. The sharks, mostly gray reef sharks with a few bull sharks averaging seven to eleven feet in length, numbered between 45 and 50
The movie cost $130,000 to make and was later bought by Lions Gate for $2.5 million after its screening at Sundance.
Actors Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis wore protective chain mail under their wetsuits, which would have prevented dismemberment but not bruising. Neither actor was bitten by a shark, though on the first day of shooting a barracuda bit Ryan.
Official Trailers
Official Posters - Teaser A / Teaser B
Dive Industry Takes a Bite Out of the Movie 'Open Water' -
The Loss of Two Divers at Sea - Michael McFadyen
'Open Water' based on RPCV Deaths - PeaceCorpsOnline

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