Open Water (2003) Review

Open Water isn’t really a shark movie, it’s a movie with sharks in it

Like dolphins caught up in a tuna net, the trawl of the murky depths of bad shark movies occasionally hauls in something which either isn’t a terrible movie or, even rarer, isn’t really a shark movie. OPEN WATER is one of the latter.

Based on (well, extrapolated from) the story of real-life couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan who, while on vacation in 1998 went out with a scuba diving group to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. Having briefly separated from the group, they were accidentally left behind when the boat crew failed to take an accurate headcount. The error wasn’t discovered for two days by which time a three-day air and sea search couldn’t find any sign of them. OPEN WATER speculates on what may have happened to the pair.

There’s a grainy, low-fi feel to the film, an aesthetic that occasionally works with found footage films but feels incongruous and occasionally frustrating here. Before it was snapped up by Lions Gate for $2.5m, it was filmed on a budget of only $140,000 and you can see where the money went – albeit not at particularly high resolution – on the screen thanks to the use of real sharks and location shooting.

It’s an occasionally hard watch and not just because of the air of inevitable tragedy. Daniel Kintner (Daniel Travis) and Susan Watkins (Blanchard Ryan) are borderline unlikable protagonists, authentically but slightly offputtingly essaying their fraught relationship brought on by busy working lives and not spending enough time together. On that last point, the film’s moral could be ‘be careful what you wish for’ because as we already know, the couple are fated to spend the rest of their lives together. The rest of their lives, though, isn’t quite as brief a period as you might be expecting because the film takes its sweet time actually getting into the water and while the early sequences might be designed to give the couple a sense of intimacy to heighten the events to come, it doesn’t quite work and a brief moment of nudity feels gratuitous and entirely unnecessary.

OPEN WATER is a decent existential survival horror movie but, although there are sharks in it, it’s not really a shark movie. If anything, the sharks become a lazy plot device to speed things along, a shortcut cop-out to what could have been a much more chilling and brutally bleak denouement.

OPEN WATER won’t be to everyone’s taste, and its likely to infuriate those who were (like Mrs Craggus) vexed by THE PERFECT STORM’s penchant for similar narrative conjecture. If you’re not hooked in by the situational horror of it then it will, inevitably, feel like an episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS stretched out too far to feature-length but if you can empathise with the growing desperation and hopelessness of the situation, it’s quite a ride.