2004-09-10 / Columnists


By Robert Snyder

Is “Open Water” more frightening than “Jaws”?

Yes. And, it’s not only because the sharks are real. The greatest horror in “Water” is that the skin-diving couple are simply forgotten, abandoned in the open ocean by their charter boat crew and fellow tourists. In the film’s most harrowing sequence, we barely see them or anything else. The couple, Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), have been drifting on the sea for hours with only their scuba tanks and blind hope keeping them afloat. It is now dark. A storm is coming in. Lightning flashes, giving glimpses of the couple and curious sharks. While partygoers revel at the beach bars, Daniel and Susan are far from anyone’s mind. The couple is being ignored to death.

Created on a shoe-string budget ($130,000) by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, “Open Water” is the “Blair Witch Project” of shark thrillers. It’s based on a true story and makes us feel as if we may be actually watching the real thing. On a recent talk show, Kentis said, “We hired the world’s best shark wranglers.” The question is... how did he convince his two hapless actors to swim with the man-eaters? “Water” is what effective moviemaking is all about: A simple, well-executed premise that makes the audience members sweat, while appreciating their own less traumatic lives.

When the couple appears at the water’s surface and sees the vast vacant landscape of the ocean, the problem for them and the film makers is how to pass the time. Susan and Daniel first play parlor games (“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”). Then, they fall asleep, only to awaken and find to their horror that they are drifting apart. Next comes a bit of comedy as Daniel screams in frustration, with Susan dead-panning, “Do you feel better now?” Her partner responds, “Well, I wouldn’t say better, exactly.” Adding to the angst are the seafaring vessels that the couple sees cruising by, unaware that an SOS is in order. In fact, Susan and Daniel don’t do too much swimming for fear of attracting the dire denizens of the deep. They can only pray that someone remembers them before utter exhaustion (or the sharks) overcome them. If you want to feel better about being on land, go see “Open Water.” And avoid charter-boat scuba diving.

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