Open Water review by The Grim Ringler

I have seen a lot of horror films. Since I was six I have been a fan of the genre and, as much of a film nerd as I am, I am a bigger horror nerd. Having seen a lot of horror films, I am pretty jaded when it comes to getting scared or freaked out. The first time I was scared was when I was six and was at a drive-in watching Friday the 13th. The second time – that I can recall of course – was after seeing The Thing (Carpenter) on video. Then I saw Blair Witch and was enthralled by the simple horrors of the unseen the film gave us. And now, now I have Open Water, a movie that, though it starts slowly, builds to a climax and ending that, like the film Requiem for a Dream, will not break but shatter your heart and leave your breathless, unable to comprehend the kind of fear these characters face.

A young workaholic couple plans a stolen weekend away from their hectic lives to go diving in the beautiful oceans of the Caribbean, hoping they can relieve some stress and spend some time together before returning to the grind. Things go well at first, despite a mediocre hotel and some work related stress hangover, but when they and eighteen others leave for their brief dive, things are looking up. It’s a beautiful day, the ocean is clear, and the last thing on their minds is work. The trouble begins for them when one of the other passengers, having forgotten his swim mask, borrows one from a couple that has returned from the forty-five minute dive early. He and the woman whose mask he borrows enter the ocean and the count is thrown off, opening the door for trouble. When the other divers return early and the crew of the boat, having miscounted the people onboard, set off, the young couple find themselves abandoned in the middle of a hungry ocean. They can see ships passing nearby but know they cannot hope to reach them before they are long beyond them. So they wait. Things are fine at first but then one shark, and another, and another, begins to make their presences known, and this short vacation is now not so fun any longer. And then everything starts to go wrong. The Dramamine the woman had taken wears off, leaving her seasick, the two fall asleep and are briefly separated, they float through a school of jellyfish, and as if things cannot get worse, a shark bites the woman. It isn’t anything deep or serious, but it’s a dark omen for the couple. As the day wears on the tension rises and pettiness takes over as the two, hungry, tired, and now very afraid, turn against one another in their fear. Even this passes though as day turns to night and a storm rises. But as the night stretches, something happens to deepen the terror, to darken their fate, and that makes the rest of their ordeal seem but a dream within a much greater nightmare.

This, like Blair Witch, gains its power from what ISN’T there. Yes, we see the sharks, and quite clearly, but (like another great shark movie – Jaws) they are shown only in glimpses, only briefly, creating more menace. And the idea that you can be within something – woods, or an ocean – that you cannot easily escape, that you cannot control, and that you are not master of, is a horror that Man still feels to its marrow. Without strong performances this film is nothing. Is a travelogue. But there is tension – which I am sure was helped because of the use of real sharks in the filming – here and the acting is strong enough that you forget that these are actors and begin to fear for them…as much as for yourself. Because you too are at risk here. Man has conquered much of the world but once in a while Nature likes to remind us that we aren’t the only ones on the planet with teeth and a hearty appetite, and whenever we are faced with these moments the old fear rises again in us and makes us think twice before we take that hike, that dive, that climb. No matter the outcome of the film, both character and watcher are changed, and there is nothing that can take that away. And lest you say – well, hell, I can do that, go and make a ‘real’ movie and have it turn out the same way. I dare anyone to watch the night sequence and not get a chill as the only light comes from lightning flashes, the dark depths of the ocean full of circling sharks and the two leads in mortal terror and at the mercy of fate.

Many will loathe the ending, though I don’t and will leave it at that. The big problem I had with the film, and the thing that keeps it from being a ‘9’ instead of an ‘8’ is that the film is anything but gripping when we first enter the story of this couple. The shot choices are clichéd, the characters are awkward, and the story isn’t terribly engaging. But as soon as we enter the world of the boat and then the dive itself the film comes alive and from there on it’s sheer adrenaline until the end.

I am sure that there will be plenty of people that will gang up on Open Water as they did for Blair Witch, insisting it isn’t scary, is boring, and ‘why didn’t they…’ but I pity those people. The people with so little imagination as to need a monster or something physical in nature to raise their fear. A terrifying film and as scary a film as you are bound to see anytime soon, this is the one to watch with the lights out, the surround loud, and your ass on the edge of the seat.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
blog comments powered by Disqus