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Open Water (2003)

Drifting into theaters this summer.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 80 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Workaholic yuppie couple Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) go on a last-minute tropical diving trip together, hoping to rescue their stress-filled marriage and discover one another again – but what they find instead is abandonment, vulnerability and terror after a crowded tour boat mistakenly leaves them behind, floating in open water miles from anywhere. The couple must endure stinging jellyfish, cold, exhaustion, dehydration, hunger, sea sickness, cramps, as well as their own bickering, with only their inflatable vests and each other for support – and worst of all, more and more sharks are closing in, their initial curiosity turning to an instinct that is far more life-threateningly primal.

Although 'Open Water' is loosely based on a true story, the action has been transferred from Australia's Great Barrier Reef to an anonymous Carribean locale, and writer/director Chris Kentis has changed his characters' names and stripped their backstory to its bare bones before plunging them into the deep. The dialogue may be hokey (“This is supposed to be a vacation…and boy do we need one”, etc.), but the film compensates for such cliché with a narrative economy that takes Susan and Daniel from their connected-up life of cellphones and e-mail to the most extreme isolation imaginable in remarkably few steps, so that viewers are quickly reeled into identifying with their plight.

The filmstock lacks the widescreen crispness that a bigger budget would have afforded, but the cheap, holiday-video look only adds to the sense of verité, without diminishing the powerful effect of seeing two lone figures engulfed by vast open waters and literally swimming with sharks – an evocative image, if ever there was one, of human desolation, so that the poetry of despair resonates deep beneath the film's rippling surface right up to the final credits.

'Open Water' is also very suspenseful, with enough tension to have you gnawing furiously at your own extremities, and nodding in uncomfortable agreement with Susan as she says “I don't know what's worse, seeing them or not seeing them”. There are sharks everywhere in this film – viewed murkily underwater through Daniel's goggles, unexpectedly breaching the surface mere feet away from the hapless pair, snapping at seagulls, or, in an unforgettably horrifying image, filmed from above circling in a pack beneath Susan while she sleeps. Yet even when the sharks are not visible, the knowledge of their presence fills the film with indescribable dread – an effect taken to its very limit in a night sequence shot in total darkness occasionally punctuated by lightning that reveals hysterical humans and the odd flash of shark. The film lacked the budget to employ cheesey Jaws-style animatronics or ‘Deep Blue Sea’-type CGI – but the real deal proves to be less predictable and far more frightening, making you catch your breath not just on behalf of the characters, but also of cast and crew who were in the water surrounded by the toothy predators.

A harrowing film which expands the horizons of watery terror.

It's Got: Vast expanses of open water that still seem somehow claustrophobic, four dangling legs and a large number of sharks.

It Needs: Better dialogue, and widescreen cinemascope.


Tense, strangely poetic drama which will change forever the way you think about holiday snaps.