Even if you didn’t know the sharks in Open Water were the real deal — not computer-generated or remote-controlled fish — this low-budget ocean thriller would still deliver the chills.

Reportedly filmed for a paltry $200,000, Open Water succeeds in putting the audience on edge for a good hour, a feat that escapes many movies costing millions more.

The story follows Daniel (Michigan native Daniel Travis) and Susan (Blanchard Ryan), an American couple out for a scuba diving holiday on a tourist boat. After a chain of unfortunate missteps, they are left behind in the open sea.

The actors spent two days filming in the water, surrounded by gray reefs and bull sharks that were attracted to the location by bloody chunks of tuna hurled by shark experts — not a glamorous gig.

Director Chris Kentis uses the low budget to his advantage. In fact, the movie’s fear factor lies mostly in the raw ocean footage and the scariness of what you can’t see below.

Kentis only offers a handful of underwater shots, so the audience experiences the same fear of the unknown as Daniel and Susan.

From the get-go, it’s apparent that this couple is shark bait, so that’s not the shocker. The terror comes in watching them, legs dangling, scared, abandoned and ultimately helpless.

A shark fin appears here or there, or a random tail splashes as it breaks water. Daniel and Susan feel something brush against them. The tension mounts.

Scariness aside, Kentis likely won’t win any writing accolades. Not only is the ending deeply unsatisfying, the dialogue is often unintentionally silly. In the end, no one really cares that Susan and Daniel are overworked and unable to disconnect from their laptops and cell phones. Just bring on the sharks.

Kentis is to be commended, however, for his camerawork.

The biggest star of Open Water is the sea, and throughout the film Kentis holds true to his vision of the ocean: dark, ominous and unforgiving.

Open Water is far from a bright, blue, sunny vacation video. Kentis’ ocean scenes will not entice you to hop on a plane for a seaside vacation. The light bouncing off the water’s surface is grainy and jarring. The water reflects the skies at their worst, in heavy thunderstorms, eerie red sunsets and gloomy, gray clouds. Even the underwater shots are cloudy and grim.

Such authenticity makes this indie film tantalizingly thrilling.


Showing at the Birmingham 8, 211 S. Woodward, Birmingham. Call 248-644-FILM.

E-mail Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey at [email protected].

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