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Being your typical male, I
decide to use a picture showing
cleavage, rather than something
relevant with, say, sharks.

Open Water
Review written by: Alex Sandell

I can thank Steven Spielberg for a nearly paralyzing fear of sharks.  Being exposed to Jaws at far too young an age (I was four) has kept me out of salt water (and, during one extremely embarrassing incident, a swimming pool) my entire life.  When Bruce the Great White went nuts in Finding Nemo, I envied the youngsters in the audience able to crawl into their mother's protective arms, without being ridiculed.  I'll probably be the only critic claiming the upcoming DreamWorks' animated film, Shark Tales, "will scare the hell out of you."  So, it was with great apprehension that I walked into the theater to attend a screening of Open Water.   

Open Water is the story of a couple left behind by their scuba-diving guide boat to fend for themselves in shark-infested waters.  Susan (Blanchard Ryan) has horrible motion sickness and her Dramamine is wearing off and her boyfriend/husband/this-is-a-movie-about-sharks-does-it-really-matter?, Daniel (Daniel Travis) seems to have an itty-bitty bladder.  With puke and piss flowing from the couple, they don't exactly make themselves invisible in the foreign habitat they've been stranded in.  Things get worse for the pair when they see their first shark fin cut through the water's surface.   

At first the shark only flashes a little tail (get your minds outta the gutter) or fin and disappears back into the depths.  But then he gets curious and comes back... with friends.  Although Daniel answers with "big ones" when Susanne asks what kind of sharks they are, these look similar to those smaller type sharks you see swimming around at Seaworld.  But when you're in the ocean and you're surrounded by them, I'm sure they seem plenty large.  When Susanne ponders over whether or not it's scarier to see them or not to see them, it takes Daniel less than a second to conclude that not seeing them is better.

Even though they are merely Seaworld sharks, they're scary.  Chris Kentis's directing is effective and creates real tension with every glimpse of a shark swimming under, around or between the scuba-diving couple's feet.  The film increases the tension throughout, with the most threatening scene happening at night during a lightning storm.  The thunder cracks in the darkness and you can just make out the flippers of the divers below the ocean's surface.  Lightning flashes across the screen and you're given a second to make out the silhouette of one of the sharks directly below.   The scene is chilling and deserves a place next to the "skinny-dipping" opening of the original Jaws.

Open Water goes out of its way to avoid becoming another lousy Jaws' clone.  There is no mad scientist creating psychotic flying fishies (directed by none other than James Cameron).  There's no gigantic mechanical shark on a killing-spree.  No oversized monster is hiding in the sewer.  None of the fish have a personal vendetta against a family for killing a loved one.  There isn't a stubborn Mayor insisting that the Sheriff keep the beaches open, even though his constituents are being chomped on.  There's just two people treading water and trying to survive an increasingly violent shark attack.  

A lot of audience members will be disappointed that this isn't the next Jaws.  Who knows?  Maybe a few will even be pissed it isn't the next Piranha Part Two:  The Spawning.  I have to admit that there were moments where I was hoping for the BIG shark fin to begin circling the couple (you know, that one they show on the posters?).  What the sharks lack in size, they make up for by actually being there, swimming with the actors.  This is one movie I would not want to star in.  Throughout the film the sharks appeared to be within biting distance of the characters.  Upon finding out that there is not a single computer generated image in the film, this becomes all the more impressive. 

How much an audience member is going to like Open Water will depend on how scared they are of sharks and how able they will be to accept the fact that this isn't the next Jaws, and isn't trying to be.  Writer and Director Chris Kentis is to be commended for making a thriller with sharks that feels like a lot of things, but nothing like Jaws.  The movie reminded me a lot of Gus Van Sant's Gerry; only not as painfully boring and featuring sharks instead of sand.  It also felt a slight bit like The Blair Witch Project, with its independent look and shaky handheld cameras. 

Ever since Spielberg laid the groundwork, everything featuring anything that eats people and lives under the water has "borrowed" his formula.  Open Water has a style of its own and presents a whole new spin on underwater horror.  There are a few things that could have been better about the movie (primarily the acting and occasional cheese dialogue), but nothing that takes away from its purpose, which is to keep you on the edge of your seat and out of the ocean. 

Open Water should come with a pre-screening checklist:  Tissue for sweaty palms, liquid for a clenched throat, and an oxygen mask for air.  This is a panic-attack inducing, unsettling 75 minutes of film!

Agree? Disagree? Have questions?  Comments?  Email this critic at alex@juicycerebellum.com

On a scale of 1-10?

8

What does this rating mean?  Everyone rates things differently.  Your "5" could be my "7," or vice-versa.  Find out what MY rating means by clicking here

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