The following is my contribution to the Beach Party Blogathon, being hosted June 8-12, 2015 by the blogs Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of a wide variety of beach-related movies! (Consider me a…)
In the summer of 1999, The Blair Witch Project — a hoked-up mock-documentary with an Internet website tie-in — soaked up millions of bucks before its unknown filmmakers went back to being unknowns, and moviegoers realized they’d been had. Five years later, a writer-director named Chris Kentis pulled a similarly low-budget hoax on film audiences (only to return to obscurity Blair Witch-style) with a gimmicky movie titled Open Water.
The film’s premise is that Susan and Daniel (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis), a vacationing couple, go sea-diving from a low-rent charter boat, and when they pop back up, they find that the boat is long gone. So they have to fend for themselves in the middle of oceanic nowhere, hoping that any kind of rescue will come before some omnipresent sharks do them in.
Forget any comparisons to that other shark movie. Decades after Jaws and its dozen or so rip-offs, filmmakers still haven’t learned that if moviegoers don’t have a vested interest in the characters, nobody’s going to care whether or not the sharks cut them up. Open Water goes out of its way to make its lead couple into one-note characters: He’s a wimp, she’s a control freak.
The movie gives its game away early, in a scene with the couple having a trivial conversation in a hotel bed. While Daniel is demurely covered up, Susan is completely, brazenly nude. I cannot deny the obvious: Blanchard Ryan looks just great in the altogether. However, in a movie about a waterbound couple’s fight to stay alive, a nude woman should not be the film’s most memorable image.
Once the movie’s gimmick rears its ugly head, there’s little left for it to do. The best scene — and the most illustrative of the movie’s potential — is when Daniel has an Albert Brooks-like rant about how much money the couple paid so that they could left for dead.
Otherwise, it’s Blair Witch all over again, with ominous tree branches replaced by teasing sharks. Here, sharks serve the same purpose as deserting passengers did in Titanic: Goosing up the plot every so often when writer-director Kentis can’t think of anything better.
I chose Open Water for this blogathon because, while the movie is now as left for dead as its lead couple, it inexplicably opened to rave reviews a decade ago, as though it was something revolutionary in independent cinema. If it is recognized at all these days, it’s as the cynical, money-sucking machine it always was. Open Water was released with the unfortunate tagline, “Drifting into theaters this summer.” And drift it did, practically out of cinematic history.