Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Sharks Rule "Open Water"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 159 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Open Water (2004)
Running time:  79 minutes (1 hour, 19 minutes)
MPAA: Rated R for language and some nudity
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Laura Lau and Chris Kentis
COMPOSER:  Graeme Revell


Starring:  Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein, Estelle Lau, Michael E. Williamson, and John Charles

The subject of this movie review is Open Water, a 2003 thriller and psychological horror film from director Chris Kentis and producer Laura Lau.  The film is loosely based on the story of an American couple who were accidentally left behind on a scuba diving excursion in 1998.  Open Water follows two scuba divers, from the beginning of their vacation to their ordeal after their tour boat accidentally leaves them behind, stranding the couple in shark infested waters.

With its estimated $130,000 budget and its little-engine-that-could spirit, Open Water has become a summer movie critical darling, one of those films that acts like counter programming in a time of the year when films are loud, dumb, and fast and aimed at boys and twenty something men still in a mental state of boyhood.  But is Open Water the scariest movie of the summer?  No, it isn’t.  Jaws does a way better job selling a similar subject matter, and Open Water’s other claim to fame, that it’s shot with digital cameras, is also not impressive, but this is still an entertaining little thriller.

In the film, upwardly mobile young couple, Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), take a much-needed vacation that includes a scuba diving excursion.  However, during the dive, their tour boat leaves early after one of the tour guides miscounts the number of divers returning to the boat.  Susan and Daniel surface to find themselves stranded in open water and soon learn that they are also in shark-infested waters.  As the hours pass, the couples comes to the grim conclusion that no one realizes that they were left behind, and as darkness falls danger looms under each wave.

Open Water is based upon the real life events from 1998 when American tourists Tom and Eileen Lonergan were left behind by their diving boat off the coast of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  This incident became a stunning and horrifying news headline, and the tale does make great fodder for film.  Open Water does indeed payoff in thrills, dread, and scares.  However, the film has a major flaw in that the leads, Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis, are good but not strong actors and both them and their characters are not endearing or very likeable for that matter.

From the early moments in this film, Ms. Ryan and Travis seem like the kind of average actors for which low budget usually settle.  Early on, they don’t come across as being at all acceptable as actors, but as the film goes on, their performances markedly improve.  But as frightening as the film scenario is (and the idea of being stranded out in open water, let alone open shark-infested water is both hair-raising and spine-tingling), the best the duo can do is make you feel sorry for the couple.  There is a distance about the actors’ personalities, and maybe that carries over to the characters, as well as explaining why the boat left the film couple stranded.  Susan and Daniel are standoffish and don’t make themselves part of the diving group, so no one missed them when they didn’t return to the boat.

Still, I imagine how great this film would have been with two Hollywood movie stars chewing up the scenery and making a very good scary movie into a great, memorable scary movie.  That’s what Open Water is – not memorable.  It’s fun and scary, but as unremarkable as most film product.  It’s good enough to be seen in a theatre, but anyone who waits for home video won’t be missing out on a cinematic experience in the theatre.  Like a lot of good horror movies and thrillers, Open Water is out of your mind by the time you walk out of the theatre.  That’s a shame because what happened to the real life Lonergans and their fictional counterparts is sad and tragic.  Too bad Open Water is only a mild version of that tragedy.

6 of 10

Updated:  Monday, July 28, 2014

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