Directed by: Chris Kentis
Written by:Chris Kentis
Starring: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis
Released: October 14, 2004
Grade: B

Don’t go along to Open Water thinking you’re in for a Jaws like experience.  The two films couldn’t be more different.  Jaws was made by the illustrious Steven Spielberg with a big-name Hollywood cast including Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss.  Open Water was shot on weekends by a small crew and cost a mere $130,000.

What you may then ask is how such a low budget flick like Open Water made it to Australian cinemas?  Well, the film impressed many critics at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and was subsequently bought by Lions Gate Films to distribute worldwide.  After raking in over $30m at the box-office in the United States, the decision of Lions Gate has proven to be quite profitable.

The story won’t be familiar to all who see it but it should be for us Australians.  In 1998, two American tourists, Tom and Eileen Lonergan, were left behind by their tour boat when diving in the Great Barrier Reef.  By the time the tour operator realised what had happened, it was too late.  They were never seen again.

In Open Water, our two leading characters are Susan (Ryan) and Daniel (Travis).  After exploring the wonders of a coral reef, Susan and Daniel surface to find their boat missing and no one in sight.  Over the next 24 hours, they will go through a range of emotions and battle the elements.  Sharks, hunger and freezing temperatures are just the start.

It’s not easy to make a film set in just one location with only two characters.  On paper, it’s a big gamble and you run the risk of your audience going for a toilet break and not returning.  If used effectively though, you can create an unrelenting tension that’ll keep the viewer transfixed.  Despite the raves of some critics, I didn’t feel that “unrelenting tension” here.  There’s a lot of footage of sharks and other underwater creatures that looks out of sync.  In other words, you could tell it wasn’t filmed at the same time as some of the footage above the water.

I did like the honesty of the storyline and how it felt more realistic than if it had been made by a big Hollywood studio.  Still, a few minor details did bother me.  Firstly, the introduction includes the most blatant, unnecessary nudity since Halle Berry in Swordfish.  Secondly, why did we need to keep crossing back to the tour boat (once it had left) and to the partiers on the shore?  Susan and Daniel wouldn’t have known what’s going on so why show us?

I’ve tried not to let my review be tainted but it is hard watching a thriller based on events for which you already know the ending.  This may have contributed to my lack of an emotional response.  If you do find yourself feeling the same way, you can breathe easier in knowing that at just 79 minutes, it’s one of the shortest films of 2004.