By Admin | August 24, 2004

Chris Kentis’ taut new shoestring thriller has been compared to Jaws by almost every critic who’s reviewed it. The funny thing is his movie bears virtually no resemblance to Spielberg’s 1975 beach emptier. Open Water has far more in common with something along the lines of, say, The Blair Witch Project. It’s a triumph of chills on the cheap that delivers its gut punch of terror by slowly but surely immersing distinctly everyday characters into the unthinkable.

Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis play Susan and Daniel, a couple of yuppies who decide to leave their day to day pressures behind and rekindle things on a Caribbean getaway. The two aren’t the movie’s principle characters; for all practical purposes they are its only characters. From the first frame to the last, Kentis has written and directed the film so as to create the feeling these are the only two people in the world and the audience is experiencing events through their senses.

Where Jaws was an adventure built out of mythic, colorful and larger than life parts, Open Water is a character study that’s minimalist in tone and detail. Very little happens to a pair about which we know virtually nothing.

Susan and Daniel, it is implied, are both Type A personalities never far from their cell phones but we’re never told what they do for a living. Their island getaway also goes unspecified. Palm trees. Blue sky. White sand. You’ve seen the beer commercial.

Amity was practically a character in Spielberg’s film but the locale of his story couldn’t matter less to Kentis. That’s because it’s not so much a place as a place that’s been left behind. Paradise lost. The couple signs on for an afternoon of scuba diving, the operation’s personnel are sloppy when it comes time to do a head count and, when the two come up for air, their boat is nowhere in sight.

How would two normal everyday young Americans react to suddenly finding themselves in a situation at once so absurd and deadly serious? Very much the way Ryan and Travis’ characters do, I suspect. Once the initial shock has been processed, the pair adopts an attitude mixing a sense of both exasperation and irony. One minute they’re grumbling about incompetence like two people subjected to bad restaurant service. The next, they’re bobbing alone in the middle of the Atlantic and playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon or some such pastime.

As the current takes them ever further from the site of the dive and the hours pass-along with several ships whose passengers and crew fail to spot them-the pair goes through a series of psychological stages not unlike those victims of terminal illness experience. In the course of the morning, afternoon, evening and, eventually, night they make an emotional journey from denial to fear to rage. And then back to fear again.

Because, of course, the place is lousy with sharks. Early on, one or two brush by. Later they are joined by ravenous companions. It’s impossible, thinks Travis’ character. He just watched Shark Week on cable. He can’t really be lost at sea and surrounded by these creatures. This doesn’t happen to real people.

And that’s what makes this movie so unsettling. These two characters do seem real and it does happen. (In real life it has happened more than once.) Their gradual realization of the depth of the trouble they’re in and the unexpected turn events take are, at times, difficult to watch the way watching someone’s apartment building burn down around them would be difficult to watch. Open Water is a dozen times more unnerving than anything in The Village and its final act far more of a surprise.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Chris Kentis went and made a modern classic.

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