Saturday, July 16, 2005

A Completely Impartial Review of "Open Water"

Every stupid review of Open Water I've come across has some clichéd remark in it about how you'll be afraid to go in the water after seeing the movie and comparing it to Jaws. It's more like Jaws 4: The Revenge, which is inexplicably playing on AMC for the third time this month. You and your kid are being haunted by a psycho shark: that's why God gave us Nebraska. I can't swim anyway, so I picked up the movie, future ocean diving plans be damned. Less braindead reviewers compared the movie to Touching the Void and The Blair Witch Project, both of which pulled off the man-versus-indifferent-nature minimalist horror genre pretty effectively.

I think the Blair Witch comparison is apt: both movies just wear you down with the poorly-drawn characters' incessant bickering and the occassional plot element. At least Blair Witch had conceit, and you were watching real people who were really scared. Open Water's leads, Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan, are nothing but histrionic. Roger Ebert finds an existential message in all the melodrama, more or less the same message that Gus van Sant subtly pounded down his audience's throat in Gerry. I think Roger's looking too hard. I don't see much more than two people complaining about the sharks biting them. And it's not like Daniel and Susan, trapped out at sea, are very likeable people. That's okay, except the movie isn't observant enough to make me care about them otherwise.

Their pre-lost at sea life is just sketchily drawn: Daniel and Susan aren't exactly yuppies in a marital slump as they're caricatures of yuppies in a marital slump. Susan's too exhausted for sex. Daniel doesn't want to stick with the group. Their vacation doesn't feel so much like a perfunctory part of their relationship as a perfunctory part of the movie itself. The plot just wouldn't be complete if they didn't have an argument, about three-quarters of the way through the film, where they each blame each other for their situation. Which is storytelling perverted. Three-quarters of the way through the film, they need to make their final push for personal growth, even if that growth is, by Ebert's standards, "irrelevant." But Daniel and Susan don't grow as characters; they never come in awe of nature, or of irony, or of their relationship (well, maybe that last one, but we don't care about their relationship). And then, unlike with Touching the Void, we never get to share their awe.

It's plain clumsy filmmaking, and I don't think it's just because most of the shooting was done in a dinky boat without a crew. The dialogue feels off, the editing is jumpy and sudden, and don't even get me started about the most confusing soundtrack ever. I did, however, like the beautiful but nevertheless banal imagery during the thunderstorm, and after fifty minutes of medium two-shots, I was pleasantly surprised when the camera gave me a nice overhead angle. But I just had higher hopes, and I can't help but be a little disappointed.