Open Water is a victim of Sundance hoopla. Scooped up by Lions Gate and announced as the next Blair Witch Project, the industry is just assuming lighting will strike twice. But Blair Witch justified its cheapness and amateur qualities with its plot. While Open Water is a movie that could be made well on a shoestring budget, the movie suffers from its cheapness and amateur qualities.
R for Language, some nudity
The story is simple. Husband and wife go diving from a tour boat. The head count is wrong, and the boat leaves without them, stranding them in open water where hypothermia, sharks, and thirst leave a small window for survival.
The situation is ideal for uncovering human nature. Like Lord of the Flies, the setting strips away all vestiges of civilization and reveals the true soul of man. Just watching the movie, however, it’s not clear that writer/director Chris Kentis has much to say on the issue.
Once stranded, Daniel and Susan (Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan) have their arguments and reconciliations. Their dialogue ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime, as expected in this type of movie. But the characters are so badly drawn that we don’t empathize with, or even recognize, the humanity in them. The only people I came close to seeing in them were some inconsiderate neighbors that I’m glad I never got to know.
How Do You Like Your Yuppie?
The trouble with the characters is that they are unlikeable people. They are career-driven, young, status-seeking, and wealthy. They drive a Lexus SUV out of their half-million-dollar estate’s private drive. We don’t know whether their money was inherited, stolen, scammed, or earned by doing good works for humanity. Since we never get to know them, we can only assume the worst. They are yuppies, and Kentis makes it very hard to get past that derogatory label.
It’s entirely possible that Kentis intended them to be a little unlikeable. The night before the dive trip they act out a scene that illustrates their loveless lives together. Susan’s oft-repeated complaint about Daniel is that he watches too much TV. And Susan, even though she’s a certified diver, doesn’t know enough not to drink seawater (maybe their money was inherited after all.) The characters might have been redeemed by good performances, but Travis and Ryan seem as clueless about what to do with these dumb-ish creatures of privilege as the audience.
Giving Kentis the benefit of the doubt, if he intended for us to dislike his characters, he ought to have done one of two things: make us come to like them by the end (making the film a psychological drama), or gleefully kill them with over-the-top cruelty (in which case Open Water would be a horror film like Blair Witch).
A Whimper Not a Bang
Without revealing the ending, it’s fair to say that Kentis doesn’t do either of these. The characters never become likeable, nor does the movie have the teeth of a Jaws or a Deep Blue Sea. In fact, the ending may be one of the weakest moments in the film. A character does something unexpected, but also inexplicable. It ends with a whimper, not a bang, and it is very unsatisfying.
Kentis deserves congratulations for producing a first feature, for writing a good story, and for getting distribution (not to mention industry buzz at Sundance). But Open Water isn’t ready for prime time. It makes me wonder whether Sundance isn’t a little too insular, too credulous of its own hype, too eager to see lighting strike twice when there isn’t a cloud in the sky.