Open Water DVD Review

It's not really proper to criticize a critic. Unfortunately, they really can supply false information, and in the case of "Open Water," one of them blew it badly. This is NOT the "Best shark movie since 'Jaws.'" That's the worst possible description. This isn't even a shark movie. What it is is a unique experiment, shot cheaply, and sent out for the public to consume. Everyone who has seen it should be thankful they did.

Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) take a much-needed vacation to the Caribbean. They elect scuba diving as an activity. When the head count goes wrong, they are left stranded in the middle of the ocean. Now miles of the coast, they have no food, no water, and almost no hope.

It's easy to pick this film apart. It looks like a cheap porno, the acting is sub-par, and it's just two people in the middle of nowhere for about an hour. That's not much to go on. This small little independent feature feels like one, and in all actuality, that's the best thing that could have happened to it.

Filmed entirely on the ocean, the film gives a perfect sense of agoraphobia. There's nothing surrounding them on the horizon anywhere. It's eerie, giving the movie a deep sense of dread and horror, and that has nothing to do with sharks. There are plenty of those too, constantly a presence as the couple moves further away from any hope.

The physiological aspect is fantastic. They start off optimistic, move into blaming each other, start silent treatments, and then seem ready to finally accept whatever fate they may have been dealt. It's a slow accent into madness, one that comes across brilliantly as time passes on. The digital video used to film this one makes everything look just right, more of that "being there" feel than with a big budget film. It's the best thing to happen to this script.

By far the worst part of discussing the film is not being able to spoil the best part. Needless to say, you'll leave talking about this one for some time. That moment makes the movie what it is in all reality and even if everything before it hasn't grabbed you, rest assured it will. It requires a repeat a viewing. They don't come more original or strangely entertaining than this. (**** out of *****)

Try and follow this: "Open Water" looks terrible on DVD, but also just like it should. The low resolution that comes from the cheapness of the production shows right through, but if it was to be all remastered with new color schemes and that sort of fancy stuff, it would ruin it. Compression is nasty in spots, though the choppiness of the water is held together well, something that usually proves troublesome. Taken as a home theater centerpiece, the transfer fails. Taken for what it is, it's not too bad. (***)

While it's nice to see a company finally giving die-hard home theater owners a fully-fledged DTS-ES 6.1 mix, why did they choose this film? It's the most ridiculous use of the format ever heard. Those without the proper equipment get a 5.1 EX mix. Again, why? Dialogue sounds like it's coming from a home movie (which it is sort of) and can be hard to make out. Admittedly, when they dive or look under water, there's great immersion as it moves all around them. That can be conveyed easily without that big mix, especially considering there's no bass or explosions to speak of. The best scene is the thunderstorm which really picks up and sounds far too real, but again, why an all-out audio presentation? (***)

Special feature fans get a nice dose here, though nothing too special. Two commentary tracks are the heart of the disc, one very active one from the two filmmakers, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau; the other comes from the two stars, Ryan and Travis. Each person talks about his or her specific role in putting the film together, and Kentis talks about some deeper insights.

Seven deleted scenes are included, mostly things that happened before the actual dive. There's nothing of note here really, but the film only runs about 75-minutes excising the credits. It couldn't hurt to have a few put back in. "Indie Essentials" is mostly Lions Gate executives talking about what they look for when distributing independent films like this. They tell what you need and provide examples of other movies they picked up (and why).

"Calm Before the Storm" is a basic 15-minute making-of. It covers pretty much everything, but only briefly touches on the actual events that inspired Kentis to write the script. It delves into the budget, Sundance, casting, and the shoot itself, complete with real sharks. "Location Footage" is, well, what it says. It's not an advertised feature on the case. It follows the director with about two and half minutes of footage as he completes various shots, including a few crazy ones involving the sharks. (***)

The entire movie will probably fare better in your mind when you know just how everything was done. It adds a deeper layer of respect for how it all came together and actually adds to the tension when those shark fins break the water. However, do NOT watch the documentary items here first. It will spoil the film. Just know and realize everything you see other than the performances is real, including the sharks.

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