Weeks before I had the chance to see it, I had already begun to snarkily refer to this "naturalistic" high-seas suspense flick as The Blair Fish Project. Now that I've seen it, I feel like I owe an apology to everybody who ever worked at Haxan Films. If Open Water ends up performing any service whatsoever, it'll be to remind a fickle public that Blair Witch had copious virtues that were tragically eclipsed by its unprecedented success. Want to see what a really worthless hype job of a vérité thriller looks like? It's swimming toward an unsuspecting theater manager near you.
Shot on video and looking like dross for no reason that serves the storyline, Open Water recounts a nightmare getaway undertaken by an unappealing couple named Daniel and Susan. They're a couple of type-A workaholics (How do we know? Cell phones a-blazin'!), so they must really need the vacation they're taking to an unspecified island, where they intend to scuba to their hearts' content. But thanks to the dopey miscalculations of an easily distracted diving-boat captain a nonwhite boat captain, Al Sharpton please take note they're left stranded at sea, where they spend the rest of the film bobbing like petrified chew toys for the sharks that we've already been told infest the area.
And that's about it. Waiting for Daniel and Susan to get chomped is the sum total of the Open Water experience, and the biggest disappointment is that it doesn't happen fast enough. Once we've seen these pouty paramours play junior-high head games over who's in the mood to have sex which occurs early in the film our chances of ever actually rooting for them go straight down to Davey Jones' locker. (They hadn't even left their hotel, and I was praying for a great white to crash through the window and waste them right there on the bed.) When our heroes are abandoned miles from shore, things only get worse: They divide their desperate hours between bickering like a second-rate sitcom couple and making truly dumb decisions. After it becomes clear that their boat has pulled up anchor and vamoosed, Daniel decides they shouldn't swim toward either of the other two vessels that are plainly visible in the area. How come? Because the boat they pick might start to pull away before they get to it. My admiration for such logic is without limit.
Fine actors might be able to make these disposable characters marginally sympathetic, but stars Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan ain't it. Travis takes a midfilm breakdown scene completely over the top, and Ryan is quite obviously incompetent from the minute she opens her mouth. Not even the vaunted suspense amounts to much: We see the sharks too early and too often to impart any real sense of menace. The PR angle is that director/writer/editor Chris Kentis and wife Laura Lau made their cast and crew shoot amongst real sharks, but an attack scene that relies on an annoying strobing effect gives the impression that, in one case at least, man and man-eater weren't within miles of each other.
Oh, and steel yourself for the most anticlimactic denouement of any film in recent memory. Tingling jaws notwithstanding, the scariest thing going on here is the realization that this loser got picked up at Sundance. Or maybe I'm just miffed that I can't call it tuna in a Cannes.