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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Open Water Chris Kentis 2004

Sushi: The Revenge

Open Water is a horror film in the same way that you might consider Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher or Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves horror films. Despite boasting real sharks and a decidedly non-union shooting method (namely, "drop the actors in deep ocean for a dozen or so hours a day"), don't be confused into thinking that this is a scare film like Jaws or Deep Blue Sea (two of my all-time favorite movies, by the way - one for impeccable direction, the other for Thomas Jane in moist swimtrunks). Chilling, depressing, and uncompromising, Open Water is a meditation on contemporary relationships wrapped in the packaging of a thriller, and while it may not deliver the delicious thrills of your standard oceanic action flick, it serves as a stark and shocking wake-up call about our precarious position in the food chain.

Open Water begins like every other independent film does: with pretty people annoying each other and the audience. Daniel and Susan (the yummy niceguy Daniel Travis and the cool, pouty Blanchard Ryan) are a successful yuppie couple, the likes of which you would see walking hand-in-hand through the ritzy neighborhood of just about any decent-sized American town (for some reason I can picture them walking with sorbets in Atlanta… don't ask me why). They are fit, smart, well-off, and wield a certain degree of power in their jobs. They have a nice house in the suburbs and an SUV, and the usual assortment of cell phones, laptops, and the like. They are Alpha Couple. They are the American Dream. They are also completely alienated from their surroundings and one another, and are soon to be reduced to bobbing in the tide like so much shark-bait.

In a vain, forced attempt to reconnect, the couple go to a generic Tropical Island (kept unspecific to avoid damaging any local dive boat business, say the filmmakers - to their credit), check into a hotel, buy stupid hats and cononut drinks, and wait for the magic to happen.

Not surprisingly, it doesn't. Contrary to what travel agents and those annoying "Come to Jamaica!" ads would like us to believe, simply flying to a warmer climate will NOT repair your marriage, exorcise your demons, and turn you into the kind of man who can cry in front of a woman. It takes far more drastic measures to effect that sort of change, and drastic is just what these therapy-ready powerblondes are going to get.

The next morning Susan and Daniel go out on a deep-sea dive. Naturally, they're both certified. Why wouldn't they be? Again, these are two individuals at the top of their game - the zenith of the human food chain, as it were. They would of course be certified in diving, fitness, nutrition, ballroom dancing, and be able to speak intelligently for at least 11 minutes on topics from the global economy to hedgehog-breeding. The couple keep to themselves on the boat, not bothering to interact with the tackier, less-interesting passengers. They seem tired already, and it's only their first day of vacation - Susan clings to Daniel absently, not for comfort but for support, the way you hold on to the handrail on an escalator.

The long and short of it: due to an unfortunate series of miscommunications (which are carried out in excruciating detail), the boat leaves while Susan and Daniel are still underwater. They surface, confused how this could have happened, and panic.
Actually, no -- I take that back: they don't panic. That's what normal people would do if in that situation. But these are Alpha Vacationers, remember? They don't get mussed about silly things like being left dipping in 50-foot waves like a couple of abandoned dinghies. Even though upon surfacing they are presented with two options (there is a boat on either horizon, either of which could be theirs), they opt to sit and wait for someone to come help them - after all, they paid for this dive, and someone will certainly notice that they are missing.

I have to say that by this point of the film I was confused and absolutely captivated by what I was watching. Something seemed terribly wrong here - where were the goofy island vacation antics? Where was the character development of these lovable kids? And once they are dropped in the water and left to float, shouldn't they be freaking out? Where are the histrionics? I paid to see a no-budget indie movie, dammit - and I want my dish-breaking and ear-splitting, improvised yelling!

But director Chris Kentis is way smarter than he initially let on. See, this isn't your standard relationship movie - this is a relationship movie about people who have lost all passion. They can't even get upset about being left to drown or be eaten or god knows what in the open ocean. As small events begin to pile up (a jellyfish sting, nausea, a lack of water, a fish bite) and fins start appearing (the sharks don't even show up until halfway through the movie), Susan and Daniel start coming to life again, and the ultimate irony is that they should have to go through so much fear, discomfort, and pain to get to the point of feeling again.

As things go from bad to worse and Susan and Daniel slip from cordial to tolerant to snippy (it's interesting that impolite and accusatory is the worst that they get to one another - they can't even really be bothered to have a legitimate fight), it becomes increasingly clear that their abilities, accomplishments, smarts, and successes in the real world don't mean jack shit anymore. As the weather turns stormy and the sun sets, the film slides from keen and detached commentary to genuinely chilling, gut-sinking horror. In one of the most cleverly (and daringly) presented suspense sequences in recent memory, Susan and Daniel withstand a shark attack in absolute blackness, occasional lightning offering brief, harsh glimpses of the battered couple clinging to one another amid enormous, storm-battered waves. While the occasional well-placed flash of fin was enough to send me 4 feet in the air, it's the intense, restrained sequences like this scene that are truly the stuff of nightmares.

You'll likely walk out of this film feeling uneasy and possibly quite shaken, and that's a good thing: what Kentis and Laura Lau (his wife/producer) have done here is to create a cautionary tale about the isolation that results from modern mitigated intercourse (it's no coincidence that the first scene of the film features 3 cell-phone calls and an email). If we allow ourselves to become isolated from our environments and one another, we'll lose our passion, our ability to communicate, and our ability to survive. One has to wonder: if Susan or Daniel had said "hello" to one person on the boat, would they have been missed? It's a question that's worth asking, and Open Water asks it with style, skill, and considerable impact.

Rating (out of 5):