Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Open Water



USA 2003 : Chris KENTIS : 80 mins*

After yet another exhausting summer of Hollywood’s bells-and-whistles box-office behemoths, it’s starkly refreshing to find a no-budget “indie” like Open Water arriving in our multiplexes. Produced, directed, written, shot and edited by husband-and-wife duo Kentis and Laura Lau, the inspired-by-true-events picture made an immediate splash when premiering at Long Island’s Hamptons Film Festival last October – an oceanfront setting entirely appropriate for such peril-at-sea subject-matter.

And it’s likely that the event’s well-heeled patrons would have identified with its two lead characters, over-worked, affluent thirtyish yuppies Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), whose hectic lives have put their relationship under strain. After several postponements, they finally escape to the Caribbean where their island holiday affords the chance for an organised scuba-diving trip. But when they’re accidentally abandoned by their boat, the couple are left stranded in shark-infested open water – and with each passing hour, their chances of survival ebb away…

While an undeniably impressive achievement given the restrictions imposed by the low budget and watery locations, Open Water never quite delivers on its terrific premise. The second half of the picture becomes frustratingly static, and the simmering discontents between Susan and Daniel – hinted at during the early dry-land sequences – could have come into much sharper focus under the pressures of their worsening plight. Kentis, meanwhile, dilutes what should be relentlessly mounting tension by means of repeated brief cutaways to the far-off island, where Susan and Daniel’s absence is only belatedly coming to light.

Though pitched as a terrifying thriller – ‘Blair Witch meets Jaws‘, according to the UK posters – Open Water may disappoint audiences expecting a scary thrill-ride, just as the Blair Witch hype-storm left many viewers feeling short-changed when they actually got to see the movie. An even closer parallel is with last year’s Cabin Fever, a pitch-dark comedy which was also (profitably) mis-sold as some kind of straight-arrow frightfest. For all its merits, Open Water ultimately adds up to nothing more than an over-extended Hitchcockian black joke – albeit one whose ‘punchline’ is unexpectedly and admirably audacious.

31st August, 2004
(seen 3rd June : Vue, Leicester : press show – CinemaDays event)

*some sources give running time as 79 mins

by Neil Young