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Open Water: Nice Tits, Lousy Movie

Written by: Erik Myers, special to CC2k


Image Nothing sucks more than a great idea gone to pot. "Originality" is a four-letter word these days, so it’s always exciting to see what young, starving filmmakers come up with, having only a few dollars to spend on cast and crew. Typically, you end up with some boring indie melodrama with pretentious trailers and a melancholy ad campaign (Garden State, I’m looking at your whiny, mopey ass), but occasionally
you end up with a Donnie Darko, a Cabin Fever, a Memento. Sometimes the absence of unlimited resources and astronomical budgets can be liberating rather than restrictive, forcing a writer or director to—gasp!—use their minds rather than their checkbooks. If one needs further proof of this, compare the George Lucas of 1977 with his 2007 counterpart and tell me if you maybe see a bit of a difference.

I think this is why it breaks my heart so much to have enjoyed Open Water as little as I did. I’d been a pretty strong supporter for this film during its initial ad campaign, having watched (and re-watched) the trailer multiple times and heeding the strong word of mouth. Sure, it’s pretty obvious why viewers would want to check this out: after all, it’s about a guy and his wife stranded in the middle of the ocean with a hungry shark; but to me, that was just the icing on the cake. What we had here was the potential for a layered character study, a film propelled forward by force of personality rather than Boo! moments. Sadly, Open Water isn’t just light on characterization, but light on logic, as well.

This is the part where I usually sum up the plot in an easily-digestible Information Nugget, but to be perfectly honest, I already sketched it out pretty neatly in the previous paragraph. A couple go vacationing in the Bahamas, and while scuba diving in shark-infested waters, they’re inadvertently left behind by their boat. Then they float around for the rest of the surprisingly short running time, alternating between screaming and crying as the world’s dumbest shark spends two whole days deciding whether or not to eat them alive.

Do they survive? Does the boat come back to rescue them, or are they both devoured by predators? I’m not going to tell you, but I will say this: ten minutes into the film, I decided I disliked both characters so much that, by the end, it didn’t matter to me whether they lived or died. Sound callous? Probably. Allow me to explain.

You see, the first problem I detected was the utter lack of characterization, a rather glaring problem in a film that will, presumably, be fueled by it. Because we’re never properly introduced to the couple, and because their names absolutely refused to stay inside my head, I began mentally referring to them as Big Whiny Pussy (Daniel Travis) and Frigid Bitch (Blanchard Ryan). Big Whiny Pussy (henceforth referred to as BWP) earned his new name because…well, he was tall, he complained a lot, and he acted like a walking, talking vagina. Frigid Bitch (whose name I won’t shorten, since it’s a title she completely earns and deserves) doesn’t want to spend time with BWP, doesn’t want to have sex with him, and can’t even put her cell phone down for five minutes when the pair take a much-needed vacation. Yeah, they’re spending time together, but anyone who bothers to look can see there’s no love between the two, no genuine compassion. They’re two people who’ve grown apart but are too busy with their hectic daily routines to do anything about it.

"Now, why is he complaining?" you might be asking yourselves. "Couldn’t their dysfunctional relationship create a more dramatic–and ultimately more satisfying–character arc?" Well, if that’s what you’re wondering, then pat yourselves on the back, because I was expecting that, too. I figured the two would either rediscover their love through this traumatic experience, or else the situation would prove to be the breaking point for their relationship. We don’t receive either scenario: instead, they bicker a little, but for the most part, they float around and make idiotic decisions.

What kind of decisions am I referring to? Well, let me pose a few hypothetical situations, and answer them to yourselves, if you would.

1. If you were deep sea diving in shark-infested waters, would you return to your boat in a timely fashion, or wait so long that they missed your absence and left without you?

2. If you were stranded in the middle of the ocean and saw a boat on either side of you, would you swim towards one of them, or just float around waving your arms, hoping they’d see you?

3. If you were stranded in the middle of the ocean and had neglected to swim toward the two boats you’d seen earlier, and now discovered a floating buoy a few yards away, would you swim toward it, or continue to allow the current to carry you further and further away?

4. If you were dehydrated, would you drink salt water and then be surprised when it made you sick?

Basically, you’ve got two characters that bob up and down for a while, complaining the whole time, passing up every opportunity to actually do something about the problem. Between the fact that they’re so absolutely clueless, as well as the fact that they’re such unlikable people, you can’t really bring yourself to care whether or not the shark eats them.

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If only the rest of the movie could have been this compelling…

  The shark presents a whole other set of problems. My understanding is that if a shark decides it’s going to eat you, you’re fucked. It comes up, chomps off a leg or a lower section or something, and there isn’t a whole lot you can do to about it. Well, in this case, our antagonist is Corky, the world’s first Retarded Shark, who just kind of swims about, circling the annoying couple, taking a small bite here and a small bite there. You end up with plenty of blood in the water, but BWP and Frigid Bitch don’t bother to swim away from the scent they’ve left, and Corky doesn’t bother to eat them. What you end up with is a shark that swims around in circles for two days and a couple who continue to scream their heads off despite the fact that Corky doesn’t seem all that hungry anyway.

Open Water is written and directed by Chris Kentis, whose only other film is 1997’s Grind (one of those boring, Emo indie flicks I mentioned earlier). Essentially, Kentis came up with a great idea, but drops the ball almost immediately. He gives us neither compelling characters nor strong actors to portray them, and by removing the human element and potential dramatic arc, we end up with a tension-free Killer Shark Movie. Even the pseudo-documentary style camerawork is mismanaged, as Kentis seems incapable of framing a simple shot (like Frigid Bitch making a phone call, for instance). Audio is terrible, particularly during interior sequences. It’s like the movie was recorded and mixed on an answering machine.

If I had to say something good, I’d compliment Frigid Bitch’s tits. Very, very nice. If she’d just left her clothes off–or kept the front of her wetsuit unzipped–the rest of the film would have been more engaging.

Great premise. Lousy execution. And the last shot makes no sense whatsoever.

 

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Author: Erik Myers, special to CC2k

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