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Open Water

Movies | With surprisingly few monster-in-the-closet moments, the filmmakers rely instead on a sense of inevitable doom

Issue: "Passing the Olympic torch," Sept. 4, 2004

The best thing about Open Water (rated R for language and some nudity) is the film's trailer, which for months has been promising the kind of minimalist, visceral scares that only independent cinema can provide. The concept is simple-two divers, on vacation in the islands, are left behind by their tour boat. Water-level shots of the two heads bobbing in the open ocean, with the occasional dorsal fin slicing the waves, are enough to send a quick chill down the spine.

The $150,000 film largely realizes its potential, despite a few disappointing elements-the biggest being an early, completely gratuitous nude scene.

As the film opens, overworked, upper-middle-class couple Daniel (Daniel Travis) and Susan (Blanchard Ryan) head off for a much-needed vacation. A few days into the trip, they board a dive boat that promises access to the tropical sea, far from the tourist-filled beaches. All goes smoothly until a numbering mix-up leaves the couple stranded with nothing but their scuba gear.

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As minutes grow into hours, and the realization that the boat is not coming back dawns, the couple negotiates a range of emotions, from annoyance to fear to anger to utter, helpless panic. To the film's credit, it relies on surprisingly few monster-in-the-closet moments. The shark attacks are less prominent in the film than the trailer would lead one to expect, and Open Water's real sharks bear little resemblance to the overgrown animatronic beast in Jaws. Instead, the filmmakers rely on a sense of inevitable doom. It's the type of fear that, rather than causing jumps and screams, produces a slow and steady tightening of the chest.

Mr. Travis and Ms. Ryan make a credible, if sometimes annoying, couple. The bare-bones approach the filmmakers take to the story, including the grainy digital photography, feels refreshingly anti-Hollywood. Occasional editing hiccups and some weaknesses in pacing keep Open Water from being quite as good as the trailer promises but aren't enough to ruin the experience of the film. What does diminish that experience is the odd, out-of-place nudity and occasional bad language.


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