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Review: Chilling, terrific 'Open Water'

Movie makes the most of what you don't see

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Open Water
Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis hope they don't become fish food in "Open Water."

(CNN) -- "Open Water" is not for the faint at heart. Let that be an enticement to you to see it.

Daniel and Susan -- played by Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan -- are desperately in need of a carefree vacation. Their relationship has been strained by their workaholic tendencies, and they've decided to take a trip to a tropical island (the actual location is left ambiguous, as the filmmakers didn't want to ruin any tourist trade) and indulge in some scuba diving.

Both certified divers, the couple signs up for an underwater tour of a coral reef with a local dive boat that caters to tourists. On the crowded boat, the two keep to themselves. As divers go in and out of the water, a count is taken to keep track of how many people are in the water.

But through a series of miscalculations, the count is wrong at the end of the 40-minute dive -- and the boat leaves with Daniel and Susan still underwater.

Upon surfacing and realizing they have been left behind, at first the two are more angry than concerned. But as the minutes tick into hours, and the hours pass with no sign of the boat's return, they begin to realize just how grave their situation has become. Their dreadful ordeal has begun.


Like the all-time classic "Jaws," "Open Water" deals with one of mankind's primal fears -- what lies beneath. Whether it be the monster under our bed when we're children or, in this case, what is just below the surface of the water in the open sea, what we can't see scares us the most.

In "Open Water," there are sharks. And what's more, they were quite real.

The actors were not secure in underwater steel cages, which have been utilized in other, similar, films: what you see in "Open Water" is what there was (though the film makes use of good editing). The natural light, the actual movements of the sea -- no studio tank here -- and the unforgiving power of nature are all on display to amazing, and frightening, effect.

Open Water
Director Chris Kentis is protected by a shark cage as he films "Open Water."

The ocean is an additional character -- the villain, if you will. And as with all good villains, you never know its next move.

The film's unrelenting realism makes it all the more harrowing. It was shot on a low budget over weekends and holidays, and didn't use special effects. Ryan and Travis spent more than 120 hours in the open water, 20 miles from land, amid all kinds of sea life -- including those sharks.


Written, directed and edited by Chris Kentis, and produced by his wife, Laura Lau -- they shared duties as cinematographers -- this movie smacks us in the face with the indiscriminate power of nature and the vulnerability of human beings. In the end, no matter how many technological achievements we achieve, we're all just part of the food chain.

"Open Water" is an extremely short film for a feature, running only 79 minutes, and most of it involves the two main characters in the water -- with an occasional guest appearance by a shark. But despite the fact that most of the action takes place at the same static pace, you'll never feel bored.

"Open Water" is based on a true story. Through research, the filmmakers discovered that being stranded in the open water while scuba diving is rare, but it has occurred. So if you're planning on a scuba vacation, you just might want to take notes.

That is, if you can bear to look.

"Open Water" has been in limited release and will continue to roll out across the country during the month of August. The film is rated R.

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