Threeway: Man, woman-- and a shark

A good filmmaker doesn't need much to keep an audience involved for 79 minutes. A man, a woman, and a shark will do quite nicely, thank you.

Actually Chris Kentis, a good filmmaker, has several sharks in Open Water, but all of them combined wouldn't make much of a snack for our friend Bruce from Jaws. Illustrating the difference between independent and studio films, you remember the shark from Jaws, but you'll remember the people from Open Water.

Susan Watkins (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel Kintner (Daniel Travis) are a yuppie couple whose workaholism is taking a toll on their relationship. They take a much-needed island vacation that includes scuba diving in deep water.

The point is that the boat leaves them behind in the open ocean, so it's not important how we get there. It had better not be, because the plot is very shaky on details. The guide's count gets thrown off because one obnoxious passenger (Saul Stein) forgot to bring a mask. When he finds one to borrow, he's not allowed to dive without a "buddy." Who was going to be his buddy if he had brought a mask, and how did the other 19 passengers pair off without him?

The guide is so conscientious about counting heads at the beginning of the trip it's not believable he wouldn't check again on the ride back or as the people disembark; or that two missing oxygen tanks wouldn't be noticed until the next day, especially when the others are lined up in racks with two obvious empty slots.

But once we're in the water with Susan and Daniel, it doesn't matter how we got there, only whether we're going to survive until help comes– if it comes. Aside from the danger from sharks and other aquatic life, we have to worry about hunger, exposure, cold, and dehydration– ironic when we're up to our necks in water– not to mention the possibility of freak accidents like being struck by a passing boat, especially at night, or lightning.

On the way out, the guide says there are sharks in the water but they're "not very aggressive toward human beings." This appears to be true, both during the official dive and afterward. But there are also jellyfish, which do tend to be aggressive, and unseen creatures and objects that do some exploratory poking and nibbling.

Despite the peril, it takes skillful writing and direction and good acting to hold our interest in this situation for nearly an hour. Open Water has all that and more. The stars could be Charlize Theron and George Clooney without the Hollywood polish. They progress believably as the minutes and hours go by, from casual to annoyed to angry to worried. Susan starts going to pieces first but proves to be the stronger one over the long haul.

At one point they have a typically silly argument which seems even sillier under the circumstances but gives them a chance to vent. Later, they start exchanging periodic "I love you's," in case it's the last thing they get to say to each other.

Kentis varies the pace and tone expertly, taking us back to shore occasionally to relieve the monotony but not leaving us there long enough to break the tension.

Open Water has been compared to The Blair Witch Project because it's a low-budget sleeper, but there's really no comparison. This one has a plot, production values, and actors you'll want to see again. Speaking of low budgets, the original Jaws cost $12 million to make, 30 years ago, almost ten times the cost of Open Water.

It's said that Open Water is "Based on true events." Whether it is or not, this film is a true event.

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