OPEN WATER baits a lure for those thriller fans who appreciate the kind of armchair-clawing tension exacted by real-world scares. It presents relatable people in a plausible situation and then remorselessly ratchets up the fright stakes to a degree of intensity that is all the more unsettling because it’s just so damn convincing. Done on a miniscule budget, the 79-minute 2003 survival/horror tale joins the granddaddy 1975 epic Jaws and Blake Lively’s showcase 2016 knockout The Shallows as one of food-chain toppers in the frenzied school of shark sagas. *
‘Susan’ (Blanchard Ryan) and ‘Dan’ (Daniel Travis) take a break from the stress of work to go on a scuba-diving vacation in the Caribbean. Their part of a group dive goes from fun to fiasco when a misread head-count sees their boat leave the dive site without them, the operators thinking all the tourists they took out are safely back on board. All but Susan and Dan…
Inspired by a real-life tragedy, it was written, directed and edited by Chris Kentis, and produced by his wife Laura Lau. Sharing camera chores, they shot on weekends and holidays over a two and a half year period in the waters off the Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Grenadines and Mexico. Other than a handful of bit players, unknown actors Ryan and Travis are front & center for the whole show, acing the naturalistic dialogue and expertly transferring their couple’s dire dilemma into the live-wired nerve stems of the audience. Fueling the fear factor: those aren’t animatronic mockups circling them but live Caribbean Reef sharks.
Various sources cite the production cost ranging from $120,000 to $500,000. Repeatedly rejected by film festivals, it finally caught a break after wowing attendees at Sundance; Lions Gate bought it for $2,500,000, then spent another $8,000,000 on prints and marketing. The worldwide take hit $55,519,000.
* “Fin!”—-sink your teeth into Jaws 2, The Meg, The Reef, 47 Meters Down, Deep Blue Sea and, for the heck of it, Tintorera. Return to sender Jaws 3-D, Jaws:The Revenge, Dark Tide, Great White, and basically any of the dozens of ripoff chum that have the word “shark” in the title.