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Exposure is key in ‘Open Water’

Brandon Hollihan | Monday, August 30, 2004

As soon as the closing credits of “Open Water” concluded and the house lights of the theater came up, a teenage girl immediately blurted, “That was the stupidest movie I have ever seen!” It’s the only verbal audience response to a movie I had encountered during the entire summer, with the exception of people cheering at the end of “Fahrenheit 9/11” (and I could go on forever about those people). I’m sure many people felt the same way this girl did, and I blame the marketing techniques unleashed on “Open Water.” The audience was made to think it would be the next “Jaws,” or we could assume it would be similar in style to “The Blair Witch Project.” This film, however, transcends those two, first by implementing foreshadowing details, and then building in suspense for the majority of the plot.Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) are a married couple so waylaid with their professional lives that they just need an island vacation, which happens to include a scuba diving session. Little do they know that while they are exploring the ocean’s surface, their boat crew has miscalculated the number of people aboard. Upon surfacing they find the boat nowhere in sight, and both of them (as they remark at some point or other) are “stranded in the middle of the ocean.”The strongest element of the film’s design is the way it treats everything with harsh exposure. Many of the camera shots, both in and out of water, are close-ups, making it more uncomfortable for the audience to watch. At times the shooting, lighting and general staging even makes the audience feel like they’re intruding on two people’s personal lives. One vital moment consists of a nude Susan lying on a hotel bed as Daniel lies down next to her. This isn’t a lewd shot; it conveys the sense of exposure the audience gets throughout the film. Both Daniel and Susan are figuratively “naked,” as we watch their emotions, personalities and inner thinking blow up in front of us, sometimes out of nowhere.The ocean filming must have been brutal for Ryan and Travis, but it’s a director’s dream. Director Chris Kentis and his wife, cinematographer Laura Lau, essentially play gods of the ocean, harrowing the actors with jellyfish attacks, thunderstorms and, of course, those man-eating sharks. Although the movie is only 80 minutes long, there are some gut-wrenching moments that almost freeze time because of how powerful they are – although they sometimes seem to be a little too much. Also of note are the numerous quick cuts back to the island, reminding the audience of what the ideal image of an island vacation is, before taking them back to Susan and Daniels’ increasingly desperate situation. The music score, composed by Graeme Revell, is mostly beneficial, but much of it is nothing we haven’t heard in other suspense/horror films.Above all else, give “Open Water” huge credit for fulfilling its goals of originality. This isn’t “Jaws,” where the characters eventually roll up their sleeves and face nature’s obstacles head-on. This is a film that makes matters for its two leads so traumatic that you wonder how, with each new twist, they could possibly survive.