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Fri August 6, 2004
You'll know why I'm still living to write this review.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
I have always been a little early for appointments, and I avoid taking overloaded tour boats to scuba dive. If you see writer/director Chris Kentis's "Open Water," you'll know why I'm still living to write this review.
This low-budget indie about a couple stranded in the ocean because of a bad count by the dive crew is in the "Blair Witch" mode of low-quality visual production and competent story telling. Its minimalist production, script, and acting lend the necessary reality, much as "Touching the Void" did with climbing.
The ever-present menace of sharks, slipping under the couple with mild knocks and a bite or two, is the best suspense of the film because we all know the setup before entering the theater, and there's not much else out in the deep. When a bit of blood appears, however, it takes on epic connotations like those in Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner": "The charmed water burnt alway/A still and awful red."
For those of us who like our character development as well as our suspense, Kentis shows in the slow pre-dive sequences some cracks in the couple's relationship, for instance, when she's "not in the mood." Their blaming each other for their predicament when they are stranded is another symptom. Kentis does lighten things with humor and humanity: When Daniel (Daniel Travis) complains about the dive company, Susan (Blanchard Ryan) responds, "Feel better now?" "Well I wouldn't say better, exactly," Daniel replies. Given their uncertain fate, that is amusing irony.
The dull images of the Sony HD Cam are unfortunate because the locations are beautiful. Like the thin story itself, however, that washed-out camera work may be one of the reasons the film works on such a visceral level. These could be home-movie images lending credence to the idea that such bizarre occurrences do happen to ordinary people because like the diver counter and the tardy husband, we're all flawed. It's just that the fates may give you a losing hand if you fail to follow the rules.
Fear of the unknown and abandonment are appropriate themes for this film; its more meaningful theme for me is that everything in life counts, especially the little decisions that sometimes change lives. Alas, no one would call "Open Water" existential but me.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.