Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Before You Go Into the Water, Best to Know Your Place on the Food Chain :: Spoilers Ahoy! :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Open Water (2003)

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"Daniel ... Where's the boat?"
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As far as nightmare situations go, you'd be hard pressed to find a more dire situation to find yourself in than the two protagonists in Open Water.

Imagine the feeling coming to the surface after a fine day of scuba-diving only to find the boat you chartered has puttered off and left you stranded in the middle of the ocean -- and what lurks just below the surface. No one knows where you are ... No ones knows you're missing ... With no food, and no drinkable water, you're prospects for survival are somewhere between Jack and [expletive deleted.]

Yeah, my stomach would be
somewhere south of my testicles.

Shot on weekends on a minimal budget, Open Water is based on the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who met a similar fate somewhere around the Great Barrier Reef back in 1998. A technically sound, no-frills film, the set-up is quick and simple and dirty with likable protagonists going through the fairly predictable baggage as they try to stay afloat, are slowly surrounded by sharks, and rush through all the stages of grief in the film's short 80-minutes: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and -- if you don't get hung up on one of those four, you finally get to acceptance of the hand you've been dealt.

And accept it they do.

And in this age of brutal irony in film, we should all know that no matter how much we get to like and root for the characters of Daniel and Susan (Travis, Ryan), and no matter how emotionally involved we get, and no matter how much writer/director Chris Kentis teases us with the possibility of rescue, we shouldn't be all that surprised at the ending when the characters don't make it and quietly surrender to the inevitable sea and the swarming sharks.

For the record: nobody knows what really happened to the Lonergans either, and I honestly don't have a problem with the same ending of Open Water. Unlike some people, I know that when I step into the ocean or venture deep into the woods, I'm no longer on top of the food chain. Everybody's gotta eat, and the responsibility is mostly yours when you put yourself on the menu. Don't get me wrong; what happened to Daniel and Susan, and the Lonergans, is a tragic accident, which brings me to the only thing I didn't like about the movie. In fact, it kinda pissed me off, even though the movie was technically over:

During the closing credits, a tag video shows a fisherman bringing in a shark. And when he proceeds to gut it to see what it's been eating, aside from a few fish heads, he pulls out Susan's camera and laughs, wondering if it still works.

I'm gonna call Kentis on this scene. I think I know what he was shooting for, here, but he missed the profundity mark and hit a trite bulls-eye instead. It's a cheap, poke in the eye that I didn't appreciate. So to you, sir, I say if you're gonna put your audience through that kind of emotional wringer and downer ending, at least have the balls to have a hand or a foot fall out of that damned shark's stomach.

Open Water (2003) Plunge Pictures LLC :: Lions Gate Films / P: Laura Lau / AP: Estelle Lau / D: Chris Kentis / W: Chris Kentis / C: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau / E: Chris Kentis / M: Graeme Revell / S: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, Saul Stein, Michael E. Williamson, Cristina Zenato

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