J.D. Lafrance
Open Water DVD Review

Open Water

October 25, 2005

Director: Chris Kentis,
Starring: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein, Michael Williamson, Christina Zenaro, Estelle Lau, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

Open Water was 2003’s Blair Witch Project (1999) – an independent film shot cheaply with complete unknowns and incorporating actual fear tactics on the cast in order to get authentic reactions. In the case of Open Water, this involved putting the two lead actors in the water with actual sharks. The movie caused quite a sensation at that year’s Sundance Film Festival and enjoyed a decent theatrical release across the country. Not bad for a movie shot completely with digital cameras on weekends.

Based on an actual incident in 1998 involving two people who disappeared while deep-sea diving off the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, Open Water tells the story of an American couple who go on a vacation from their busy lives to the Bahamas. Daniel (Travis) and Susan (Ryan) do all the usual touristy things: sightsee, take pictures and generally soak up the local colour. One day, they decide to go on a deep sea diving excursion. In a cruel foreshadowing of things to come, their instructor tells them that the sharks in the area aren’t that aggressive.

Daniel and Susan stay underwater for too long and are left behind when the instructor miscounts the people who come back on board (thanks to one diver who went into the water mid-way through the dive). They eventually surface and realize that the boat is gone. A few hours pass before they catch their first glimpse of a shark fin. They see it again, only this time much closer. The couple (and the audience) begins to realize that they are screwed: stranded out in the middle of nowhere with no food or drinkable water with hungry sharks nearby.

One of the problems that plague so many horror films is that the protagonists are incredibly stupid. Despite seeing boats off in the distance on several occasions they don’t try to swim over to them but instead try, in vain, to contact them by frantically waving their arms. It takes them hours to realize that, hey, maybe we should try to get out of here but by this point there are no boats anywhere and it is gradually getting darker.

Open Water does feature some chilling images. For example, there is a shot of Susan floating on her back in the water with several sharks swimming just under the surface all around her! The filmmakers wisely downplay the gore in favour of relying on the audience’s overactive imaginations. They know that what we can imagine is much more terrifying than anything they could show us and so the glimpses of sharks and the scared reactions of the two actors does a decent job of conveying the horror of their situation.

Essentially, Open Water takes a scene from Jaws (1975) and expands it into an entire movie. It is an intriguing premises but not one easy to sustain for 90 minutes. Still, one has to admire the chutzpah of the filmmakers to put their actors (and themselves) in the same water with actual sharks. It certainly gives the film a chilling level of authenticity that the mechanical beast of Steven Spielberg’s film never could.

Special Features:

First up is a theatrical trailer.

Also included are seven deleted scenes, including an alternate opening sequence that features an ominous image of diving gear washing ashore. Most of the cut footage is of the couple before they go on their diving trip and was wisely excised.

“The Indie Essentials” features the Acquisitions Executives at Lion’s Gate as they talk briefly about how to make your film marketable and attractive to a studio and/or distributor.

“Calm Before the Storm: The Making of Open Water” is a 16-minute featurette that provides some insight into the husband and wife filmmaking team of Chris Kentis and producer Laura Lau who shot their movie on digital video in order to cut costs. There is footage of the two leads auditioning for their roles and they talk about the characters. It’s a nice look at shooting a movie on a budget.

“Bonus On-Location Footage with Chris Kentis” features footage of the director getting ready for a day of shooting in shark-infested waters. At one point, we see him surrounded in the water by several sharks!

There is an audio commentary by the two leads, Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis. They offer their observations and experiences making the movie and also recount many anecdotes in this mildly engaging track.

Finally, there is an additional commentary by Kentis and Lau. They touch upon character motivations and talk about the challenges of making their movie. They tend to pat each other on the back a little too much in this average yak track.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 75%



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