Open Water (DVD)

Starring Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis

Directed by Chris Kentis

Open Water is one of those indie films, much like Haute Tension or Saw, that hit film festivals and made a very large impression on those in attendance, which got the horror community buzzing to see it. Even though it’s been called a mix of The Blair Witch Project and Jaws, Open Water really stands on its own as the kind of movie you’ve probably never seen before. One that manages to capture the terror of isolation so effectively that you might re-consider ever getting in the water again.

I will admit the film’s been over-hyped, so I’m going to try and take away from the hype just a bit and tell you it’s nothing groundbreaking, it’s nothing “new” in terms of filmmaking. What it is, is a film that manages to utilize the technology that’s available to pretty much everyone and create a very tense, very realistic film that’s likely to affect anyone with a fear of isolation. It does what any horror film, indie or otherwise, should do: It drags the viewers in and makes them feel the terror the characters are experiencing as their own.

But is it horror? That’s debatable; I would say it is in a sense, since the main driving emotion behind the characters’ motivation is fear, but I would be remiss to call it a straight “horror film.” But hell, why categorize it, we’re no film studio. The fact is if you’re a horror fan, you’re probably going to dig it.

Shot over a period of almost three years, Open Water is the story of a couple who are left out in the middle of the ocean after a dive boat leaves them behind thanks to a head count error. Throughout the course of their time in the water, we learn just enough about them to make them seem real, and the performances are solid enough that you truly believe these two care about each other. All the elements of a long-term intimacy are there, from the comfort of just being with the other person to the minor bickering. Add that to the very real horror of being surronded by sharks (real ones, mind you, not CGI…they were actually in the water with sharks) and you’ve got the elements in place for a very harrowing experience.

Filmmakers Chris Kentis and wife Laura Lau shot using cameras that are available to pretty much anyone (as long as they can afford ‘em), all on DV with zero crew; just two actors and two filmmakers out on a boat, shooting on weekends and vacations for 2 ½ years. The results spoke for themselves when shown at Sundance the first time, Open Water being the first film to be purchased at the festival. Lions Gate once again made a great choice.

Seeing as how it was a digital shoot, you’re not going to see the picture much clearer than it is now. Though it’s got the look and feel of a home movie most of the time, the excellent performances by Ryan and Travis make you forget about the look after about 5 minutes and just focus on the story unfolding. Sound features on the DVD go from 2.0 to 6.1 surround, which I can only imagine would be an amazing experience in the right setup. Personally, I only have a 5.1 setup and it was still very immersive thanks to the great sound techniques utilized to make it seem as if the ocean was all around you.

The features are just enough to make it seem like a well-rounded disc without going overboard on too much information. “The Indie Essentials” is a 5-minute piece that features some of the heads of Lions Gate talking about what makes an indie film stand out for them and what they look for when discussing acquisitions. “Calm Before the Storm: Making of Open Water” is just what it sounds like. Clocking in at only 15 minutes, it still manages to trace the important steps from the conception to the final product of the film with input from the stars, creators, and shark wranglers. Very important, that. There’s also a 2 ½ minute “Bonus On-Location Footage” piece, which just shows director Kentis getting in the water for, I believe, the first time with the sharks and filming them eating all around him. Pretty damn freaky, even if you know it’s a controlled environment. There are also some deleted scenes that just show more of the couple before they go on the dive trip, just some character exposition that’s easy to understand why it was exorcised from the final cut.

Finally, we have our commentary tracks, one with Kentis and producer/wife Laura Lau, and one with Ryan and Travis. Both are informative in their own ways, with the creators delving a bit more into their thoughts on the characters than the actors do, but all parties seem to recall the entire shoot with fond memories. You can tell Travis and Ryan are still very comfortable with one another, and there’s no attitude from either side about their roles in the movie, despite them being the new indie darlings.

All in all a very solid release for a very solid movie. At one of the many Christmas functions I went to this weekend, my wife’s aunt was talking about how Open Water was coming out on Tuesday, and this is a woman who knows pretty much zero about film, let along indie stuff, so that right there is a great indication of how well Lions Gate handled the marketing of their film. I know a lot of us didn’t get a chance to see it on its brief theatrical run, but personally I was kind of glad I didn’t because the effect of watching it at home, with the surround sound cranked in a darkened room, only helped convey the sense of isolation the film strives for. Highly recommended.

Open Water
Lions Gate Films
Directed by Chris Kentis
Starring Blanchard Ryan & Daniel Travis

Special Features
Commentary by Blanchard Ryan & Daniel Travis
Commentary by Chris Kentis & Laura Lau
“The Indie Essentials: A Filmmaker’s Guide to Gearing Up for a Marketable Movie”
“Calm Before the Storm: The Making of Open Water
“Bonus On-Location Footage w/Director Chris Kentis”
Deleted Scenes
Theatrical Trailer

4 out of 5 Mugs O’ Blood

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Johnny Butane