An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

       If you are comfortable with 90 minutes of having your primal fears stripped bare, then try
”Open Water.”  Think of the ocean with nothing on the horizon in any direction; of your legs dangling down among the circling sharks.  The fear factor is bigger than usual in this one because husband and wife team Chris Kentis and Laura Lau used no special effects.  The movie is shot through with the reality – this is just the way it would happen to you or  me.  Let’s get back to the beginning.

       Susan and Daniel, young lovers in  need of a break  from work stress, sign up for two spots on a dive boat.  Certified in Scuba, the underwater time will be easy and relaxing.  And indeed it is.  Two details set a nightmare in motion – Daniel lingers a minute or so beyond the surfacing time, and the head counter on the dive boat makes an egregious mistake.  When Daniel and Susan surface, the dive boat has gone,

       One boat lies in the far distance one way, a second in the opposite direction.  Shall we swim to this one, or that?  As both boats disappear, the two divers remain fairly calm in the certainty that their guide will discover the mistake and return quickly to find them – the well known phase one of catastrophe.  Guilt and rage follow – it’s her fault they went diving.  No, she wanted to ski.  No, it’s his for staying down too long.  Then they see the fins and the probability of their fate sinks in.  There is absolutely nothing they can do to help themselves. 

      Vacationers are usually divided between those who seek risk and those who seek peace.  Riskers are again divided into sportsters and the casual sort like Susan and Daniel, who sign up for a trip from some exotic town dock to a well-scouted haven of undersea life.  Each pair was to dive for 35 minutes before heading home for a good restaurant dinner.  They chose minimal risk, and after all, they were certified. 

Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan do well enough by the principals, but they can’t elevate the movie beyond basic fear.  Why?  Perhaps because an audience needs hope – for the actors and for themselves, and hope is not in large supply here.  We needed, I think, more shore action, more connection with the rescue effort.  But credit Kentis and Lau with creating a fine looking film that reflects its low ($130,000) budget without looking skimpy.  It is, after all, the power and scale of the ocean alone that they are giving us, and that needs no special effects.  The sea life is real – sharks too – and the actors did not have an easy time of it.  A great deal of our time and their budget is spent looking through the eyes of the despairing swimmers across empty water in every direction.  Cheap to film, and the fear goes straight to the bloodstream.

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