Water Torture

Open Water

At about the halfway point of the mercifully brief (but not nearly brief enough) Open Water is the movie’s lone moment of artistry. It’s an edit, and it deliberately creates confusion in the audience that matches what’s being experienced by the character on-screen: Floating in the water, Susan has no idea how much time has passed since she fell asleep, and she doesn’t know what happened to her husband Daniel, who was holding her the last time she was conscious, just before the cut.

Only with a truly awful movie can one say that the best thing about it is not something that’s actually in the picture but something that was done to it. But so it is here.

Open Water would barely be worth the effort of dismissing except for some shockingly enthusiastic reviews. So to prevent you from wasting 80 minutes of your valuable time with this piece of shit, I’m wasting considerably less of your valuable time with the piece of shit that you’re presently reading.

Written and directed by Chris Kentis and made for less than $500,000, Open Water is an attempt to meld the terror and watery-graveyard setting of Jaws with the low-budget aesthetics and blubbering rawness of The Blair Witch Project. A married couple is left behind by their tour boat, alone in shark-infested waters with little hope of rescue.

The comparisons to the movie’s forebears are valuable for the contrasts more than the similarities. Jaws gives the audience rooting interest in well-formed characters, a monster with personality and drive, and confident, smart filmmaking. Open Water has none of those. Blair Witch, even after the post-hype backlash, has a beautiful formal rigor that gives it immediacy, intimacy, and credibility; a sinister if vague mythology; and a genuine sense of mystery. Open Water has none of those. It’s about cardboard characters floating in the ocean and none too happy about it, with sharks coming by every now and again for a snack.

The acting and writing are terrible and, more damningly, never convincing. Although Blanchard Ryan (as Susan) and Daniel Travis (as Daniel) come off badly, that’s mostly a function of a script devoid of wit, depth, humanity, realism, narrative, or reason for being. It’s full of exposition, though: After Susan vomits while David is underwater, she tells him that she threw up, even though that was plain to him and all but the dimmest audience member.

The writer/director tries to goose interest by having the characters fight about who was responsible for their dilemma, but a couple’s aberrant behavior in times of crisis is neither interesting nor surprising. If that dialogue can’t be delivered with authentic anger and frustration, it simply becomes torturous.

And Kentis’ direction is the work of a rank amateur, and by “rank” I mean “foul-smelling.” From the heavy-handed treatment of how the couple was left behind to the near-constant visual explication to the intrusive camera that always hammers home that this is a movie, his storytelling skills — to the degree that they exist at all — are unrefined and tentative; he never trusts the story, the visuals, or the performers. Even worse, he keeps jerking the audience out of the moment by cutting away from their situation to show material that’s at best of marginal interest or relevance.

This is not only distracting but a bad narrative strategy. By returning to the tour boat or the shore, Kentis reminds the audience that there’s a world beyond the desolate, dangerous ocean, even while the characters’ universe closes in on them, a circle whose ever-shrinking radius is the distance they can swim. Visible boats look light years away, unreachable.

The makers of Blair Witch understood that audiences can be satisfied without knowing the whole story; that movie actually draws strength and power from that which the audience is never told or shown. Kentis would have been wise to keep the cameras with the couple, knowing that’s where the audience’s interest should lie and giving viewers the feeling of being all alone in the world.

But a listing of Open Water’s myriad shortcomings ignores that it was doomed from conception. The movie is wholly situational, meaning that it wouldn’t matter in terms of setup, plot, or resolution if the couple were Beavis and Butt-Head. Susan and Daniel are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and nothing they could do would change their predicament.

So for a grueling 80 minutes, everybody suffers pointlessly.

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