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Open Water

This will eventually be a movie review of the film Open Water but allow us a moment to digress. Can we agree that the world is chock full of interesting stories? Some uplifting, some depressing, some fantastic. You'll find reoccurring themes - romantic comedies, death defying odds, poetic justices, ironic twists. And of course, tragedies. Every civilization has their versions, passed along, embraced, kept alive to help lend historical perspective. Artists of all ilks and mediums strive to interpret and represent these tales, adding their personal touch to the ones they deem worthy in the hope that posterity will not forget them. For many, with time as the most valuable commodity, which stories one chooses to bring into their artistic oeuvres becomes the nagging question. Deciding where to use one's art and on what yarn to hang one's talents can be the choice on which happiness and artistic fulfillment ultimately rests.

And filmmakers, it would seem, due to the fact that the nature of their particular beast takes the most collaboration and resources, need to be the most careful of all with the stories they select. The money and logistics typically involved dictate that if a celluloid project is to reach fruition, significant time and energy on the part of many must be invested. Serious directors average only ten to fifteen films in a career after all and with the plethora of tales to tell out there, making the right decision on which particular story to focus one's time could make or break a career.

We don't have any of these problems here at the Goliard by the way. As a publication that simply stumbles forth aimlessly applying our meager talents to whatever strikes our fancy, we spin only the yarns that amuse us or that are on our minds when we happen to be at the keyboard. Even we, however, are vastly aware of all the stories that we simply don't have time to tell. 

Like most in the business of telling tales however, we find it paramount to absorb as many good ones as we can which is why we often go to see films. And despite the fact that many movie studios seem to exist these days for the sheer purpose of grinding out palp that they think will earn a few bucks never minding that they shamelessly perpetuate stereotypes and drag the culture down, others have a grander goal in mind. And although they often fall miserably short, the occasional good film interpretation of a sturdy yarn can make sitting through all the other garbage worth it. Which brings us finally around to explain why we are typing all this blather. We sat through a scuba diving movie the other evening and still haven't decided what to make of it.

As it happens we are not unfamiliar with the subject completely and some of us here at the Goliard have done a bit of scuba diving in our day not to mention spent a fair amount of time out on the open water. One might assume then that we might be predisposed to be interested in tales involving aquatic adventure. Our first exposure to scuba diving in fact, speaking of good stories, involved illegally filled tanks, purloined wet suits and the sliding down backwards on our asses of a huge, algae slickened drain pipe in the dead of night. The pipe end dropped us ten feet into the pounding surf and total darkness of a hidden Maui bay where we engaged in some uncertified drunken plan to hunt for slipper lobster tails. We survived obviously, to everybody that heard the circumstances surprise, and went on to embark on many a more conservative trip although none that equaled the thrill of finning through the absolute pitch black, trying to learn to work the various valves and apparati by trial and error and fighting off waves of panic despite never knowing if it was a buddy brushing up against your leg or one of the hammerheads or giant rays we'd seen gliding about while surfing the same bay during days prior. In any event we've always loved being both on and in the ocean so when the ticket girl told us the other night that the only movie that had not yet started was called "Open Water," we paid our money with a small sense of hope that we might get to drift away on some level from our current non adventurous lives.

Of course before we had even taken our seats and the lights dimmed we remembered hearing that someone had made a movie about the well publicized case of the young American couple, Thomas and Eileen Lonergan (left) who were left behind by a scuba boat captain in Australia a few years ago. It was the kind of story that caught everyone's attention and touched people on an elemental level since the helplessness of being stranded floating in the middle of the ocean is a feeling even those that haven't been out there can understand. Being trapped with one's spouse in that type of hopeless situation and having to watch them suffer alongside you is also something that pushes buttons in people even if they've never strapped on a scuba tank or dipped a toe in the surf. As the opening credits began to roll and an attractive young couple sets about preparing to take a diving vacation, we realized what we were about to see and recalled that, in the real life version, the couple was never found. As a "based on true events" screen appeared, our hopes for an uplifting ocean adventure began to wane and we wondered how the film could end any other way but badly. 

We wondered this right up to the end of this odd little movie and left the theater not feeling that great and with more questions than answers. Not about the particular couple and their fate, but about why a director would choose to tell this particular tale in this particular way. Heralded as a low budget feature and reportedly filmed in the actual open water with shark handlers luring animals with bloody bait as the actors remained in the ocean for days upon days of filming with only chain mail under their wet suits to protect them, much of the movie has the handheld feel of a home vacation video. The terror that the movie has been praised for is generated largely by the fact that the camera doesn't show much of what the characters don't see, namely what's underneath them in the water. It also contains long scenes when nothing is happening other than the two stranded divers just floating together and waiting to see whether the sharks will take enough of an interest in them to tear into their flesh. In between watching for dorsal fins, they loll on their backs scanning the horizon for any sign of help and talk about their predicament. They argue at times and try to comfort each other and stay somewhat upbeat in the face of what is increasingly a desperate situation. Given the fact that they have so much time to ponder their fate, the dialog that ensues over the hours as their hope begins to wane felt like real talk to us even though it is impossible to know how one might behave under such circumstances. The irony that they paid good money for the experience is not lost on them and the conversation, probably because of the fact that it is not particularly poetic or inspired, seems genuine and like one a married couple might have in such a situation. In short, the actors, once they are in the water at least, are as totally believable as the situation is desperate and sad. The question is why make a movie about it?

Hard to guess what writer/director Chris Kentis (pictured at left with his two stars Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) was thinking. He was clearly trying to make his mark with an artsy film that would get notice from the industry and ends up giving us a sort of a bare bones tale that is more upsetting than it is scary. He was on a low budget as well obviously and perhaps as a result only gives cursory footage to the personalities and actions of those on the boat that ended up leaving them stranded since such scenes involve actors and logistics which tend to get expensive. Kentis also employs bizarre cinematic effects, perhaps in effort to duplicate the hallucinatory feelings that such conditions would likely bring, spending disproportionate film minutes showing various freaky water ripples and cloud formations to raise the level of disorientation. The editing is also sloppy at times with some scenes lopped off without natural resolution. 

In reading about the film since coming out of it, we have become more impressed with the effort that went into making it than we were with the end result and the real details have begun to blur with our memories of what we experienced in the theater. The cast worked without insurance (who, after all, would insure a project involving live feeding sharks with no cages) and nearly endured the actual conditions the characters were supposed to be battling (other than the no hope part of course) in order to get the film made. If Ryan, the daughter of the president of a National Hockey League team, looked particularly convincing when telling her on screen husband that something big was rubbing up against her leg it probably was because there actually was something down there bumping her and she was well aware that the something most likely lacked the brain capacity to follow a script. Ryan hadn't been in much else previously and has said that she was haunted by the story and signed on for the sharks and sunburn against her better
judgment but now wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

She also signed on for full frontal nudity (Caution: link contains it) that is completely gratuitous and adds nothing to the story. Or does it? We are normally in favor of this of course and gratuitous shots of the female body are not rare in movies by any stretch but they almost never seem as out of place as this one. It's as if it's not meant to be titillating but just matter of fact which we support if it adds to the story in some way (and even if it doesn't we suppose) but there's something about this scene that imprints itself in your brain for reasons other than Ryan's oddly exposed shapeliness. The situation is that the couple, who decide on a spur of the moment vacation because they are stressed from their jobs and need to get away, end up in a hotel with broken air conditioning. After a scene of them clothed and brushing their teeth, Ryan is shown laying completely naked reading. She looks quite fetching but when her husband shuts off the light and commences amorous advances she explains that she's not in the mood. Is this important insight into the relationship or is Kentis, who was reportedly insistent from the beginning in including the scene, merely hoping to scare up a few more word of mouth male fans? Hard to tell but it's just another thing about the film that is just slightly off putting.

So all in all it's hard to say whether we'd recommend the film or not. As we said it asks more questions, or begs answers to more questions, than it answers. Is Kentis an up and coming talent who, now that he'll have resources based on the success of this movie, will apply himself to the stories that need telling? Did this story need telling?  Is Blanchard Ryan a rising star or will she fail if asked to accept more conventional roles where the props aren't so convincing that acting really isn't a question. Will she regret the nude scene when she becomes a "serious" actress and the internet pops it up anytime anyone searches for her name? Does the fact that we can't stop thinking about the film say something about us or the Kentis' effort. Are we recommending this movie? Not to those looking for a Jaws type experience which seems to be the way they are marketing it. Not to those looking for a love story, or an adventure story, or a happy ending. Anyway, it's only 79 minutes long so if you have that time to kill, check it out and see what you think. One thing's certain about the film and that is that it will inspire you to make damn sure the captain of any dive boat you decide to charter remembers that you're on board.

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