This “no-budget Jaws” scared the crap out of people at the Sundance festival, where it was quickly snapped up by Lion’s Gate Films. It is a great triumph of independent filmmaking—the whole movie crew, including the actors, was apparently only a handful of people, making the film on weekends and in their spare time and on digital video. This minimalist approach, both behind and in front of the lens (the vast majority of the film is just watching the two divers drifting alone in the open sea) works greatly to the story’s advantage, provoking an effective intimate terror and helplessness.
Inspired by a true story splashed across the headlines a few years back, Open Water’s premise is simple: Two American yuppies on holiday from their busy cell-phone and laptop lifestyle take a vacation in a tropical paradise. While on a morning scuba-diving boat tour, the tour guide makes a drastic mistake, mis-counting the tourists as they haul themselves back out of the water, and the boat simply leaves without them. Imagine your alarm, after swimming with the fishies in the pretty coral, if you resurfaced only to find your tour boat gone.
And there you have it. In such a situation, it is just a matter of time until the sharks come. Yikes. Freakin’ YIKES!
Open Water, knowing it has a rather simple premise, luckily doesn’t overstay its welcome, running briskly under 80 minutes. Though it suffers some from its low budget filmmaking (i.e. sometimes scrappy digital video, occasional wooden acting and script), it is smart enough to play up its strongest co-stars: the ocean predators the can be seen—and worse—not seen.
Sometimes when I swim, I jokingly pull my feet up to the surface, shrieking, “Swim high! Swim high!” so that my feet don’t touch anything below. Crap. Next time I’m at the ocean, I think I’ll just stay in the boat.