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August 31, 2004

Review: Open Water

The trailers deceive. Open Water isn’t about a group of screaming teenagers armed with video cameras who go swimming in search of shark with a big jaw and get lost. It’s about a marriage, amidst all that. Minus the teenagers.

It’s a straightforward story simply told. Susan and Daniel are the two main characters. They’re young, attractive people who lead busy lives. Naturally, they’re quickly vacationing on an exotic isle. They go scuba diving. They enjoy themselves. Then, their boat leaves and leaves them stranded. The rest of the film is spent with the two leads as they cope with their situation (which Daniel says isn’t as rare as most people think). While attempts are made by the duo to save themselves, they can’t do much, and their interaction soon becomes the focus of the film.

Unfortunately, Open Water doesn’t build a relationship strong enough to sustain itself. The characters are too thin (She’s a workaholic. He watches a lot of television). And, in a film that runs less than 80 minutes, too much time is wasted on filler. For example, what’s the point of a gratuitous nude scene near the beginning?

However, Open Water isn’t totally without merit. There are some interesting ideas presented in the film. Consider a scene in which Susan and Daniel, floating in the ocean, can see their salvation in the form of two boats. But they can’t decide which one to swim to. Not long after, an airplane buzzes by. It’s a great image of a world brimming with means of communication, in which people are still disconnected.

Even a sequence that explains how Susan and Daniel were left behind is interesting. In short, it involves an observational error and an over reliance on math. Had the boat operator been more personal in his approach to his customers, and not viewed them as units, the whole fiasco could have been avoided. It’s significant that he finally realizes his error only when he finds the pair’s belongings on board his ship, and looks at their photographs.

On the visual side, Open Water relies on a rough, realistic look. And it succeeds. An atmosphere is created of expansive claustrophobia. For Susan and Daniel, the ocean is big place and a tiny, confined space at the same time.

Another good decision is the restricted use of underwater photography. The two main characters are up to their necks in shark infested, jellyfish teeming water and they don’t know what’s going on below the surface. The audience is forced to fear that unknown as well.

The cinematography helps create tension. And the only breaks, which come jarringly, are brief scenes of life back on land that serve to show the passing of time as well as to juxtapose the reality of Susan and Daniel’s vacation with the vacation they thought they were getting. Vacation could easily stand for marriage.

Had the filmmakers been able to supplement these ideas and their style with better characters, Open Water would have been both intriguing and satisfying. As it is, the film is only intriguing. The film’s conclusion, a nicely subtle final scene, should have produced a strong emotional response. It doesn’t. Instead, it serves to underline the weaknesses of the entire film.

10 Comments:

Blogger John said...

Nice review. Happily, I didn't see the trailer before I saw the movie; clean slate going in. As for the couples' relationship, I didn't really think about it: I guess I filled in a lot of their life on my own, because I found the ending quite powerful. You're absolutely right, though, if the film didn't engage you, then it *would* just sort of peter out.

So, I was skimming The Blueberry Picker; are you still writing?

4:27 pm  
Blogger Quack Corleone said...

Thanks for the comment. Yes, I still try to write as much as I can (although it seems likes more outlining and rewriting than anything else!)

By the way, where did you read 'The Blueberry Picker'?

5:32 pm  
Blogger John said...

Rewriting: I feel your pain. Orson Scott Card had some great stuff on the subject in one of his books on writing; it boiled down to: move on. With every year that passes you'll see room for improvement in every one of your works. Leave a work for ten years and the need to rewrite will be almost unbearable. Resist it. The best thing you can do for your sanity (and your career, if you've chosen that route) is to keep yourself busy with new projects, and the mantra that you'll do the best that you know at any given time.

I found The Blueberry Picker here after doing a quick search for what else you were doing on-line:

http://www.geocities.com/misio03/Blueberry/

1:57 pm  
Blogger Quack Corleone said...

That's pretty sound advice. Rewriting's never done, and no work, no matter how great, is ever as good as it could be. But it's important to move on.

(I wasn't aware that 'The Bluberry Picker' was still online. Thanks for taking the time to skim over it, though.)

2:40 pm  
Blogger Quack Corleone said...

That's pretty sound advice. Rewriting's never done, and no work, no matter how great, is ever as good as it could be. But it's important to move on.

(I wasn't aware that 'The Bluberry Picker' was still online. Thanks for taking the time to skim over it, though.)

2:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's pretty sound advice. Rewriting's never done, and no work, no matter how great, is ever as good as it could be. But it's important to move on.

(I wasn't aware that 'The Bluberry Picker' was still online. Thanks for taking the time to skim over it, though.)

2:41 pm  
Blogger Quack Corleone said...

That's pretty sound advice. Rewriting's never done, and no work, no matter how great, is ever as good as it could be. But it's important to move on.

(I wasn't aware that 'The Bluberry Picker' was still online. Thanks for taking the time to skim over it, though.)

2:41 pm  
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