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Left Behind

 

Open Water

Chris Kentis, USA, 2004

Rating: 2.6

 

 

Posted: August 22, 2004

By Laurence Station

The ocean is a scary place. If nothing else, Open Water, Chris Kentis' independently financed second feature, capably illustrates this point. The premise -- a couple stranded by a diving boat in the middle of the ocean -- is all too plausible (drawing primarily from a recent, similarly unnerving real life incident). But it's hardly enough to carry an entire film, as evidenced by the scant hour-and-twenty-minutes' running time. Kentis gambles the success of his entire narrative on the time his two leads spend adrift in the water, anxiously watching as sharks grow increasingly bold in their attempt to dine on the helpless couple. And it's simply not enough.

As some larger existential examination of humankind's inability to control nature, Open Water has little of consequence to say. Kentis is doggedly literal in his approach: Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) take an island vacation in an attempt to put their incredibly busy and stressed out lives on pause. The distance between the couple is established early on (while Daniel waits to leave for the trip in the car he calls Susan, who's in the house, on his cell phone -- an obvious but effective example of their emotional disconnect), and a subsequent failed attempt at lovemaking only reinforces their great divide.

Unfortunately, this doesn't add up to very much. It's mere padding until the ill-fated scuba diving trip, where a miscount by the boat crew leads to Susan and Daniel resurfacing only to find they've been left behind. As the current carries the couple across the water, they joke, bicker, grow irritable and finally frantic as the elements and sharks hasten their chances of survival to nil. Kentis never exploits the pre-abandonment tension between the couple in any serviceable manner; there's no great revelation or epiphany regarding their fractured relationship. Susan and Daniel are simply a couple of self-absorbed, hyper-competitive individuals stuck in a terrible spot. Since their ultimate fate is hardly in doubt (hint: There's no last second Hollywood rescue in the cards for these two), the power of Open Water rests on how much the audience cares for the imperiled couple (or at least finds them interesting). And that's where Kentis' film falls terribly flat. Ryan and Travis are serviceable actors, but their characters are badly underdeveloped and their dialogue contrived and flat.

Kentis does manage to derive genuine tension from the sharks (the true stars of the picture), which dart and surface with increasing, stomach-tightening menace. And his resolution regarding the couple's inevitable demise is deftly handled as well. But there's simply not enough back story to sustain the whole. It's as if Kentis read the tragic tale of the real couple and figured he could craft an entire film from the sketchily known facts. Unfortunately, he forgets to fabricate a few attention-grabbing and relevant details, and that capsizes his entire story. We do get the point, however: Never, ever get stranded in open water. At the very least, dive boat companies will be sure to tighten their head count policies thanks to this film.

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