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Open Water

Year: 2005
Studio: Plunge Pictures LLC
Director: Chris Kentis
Writer: Chris Kentis
Cast: Daniel Travis, Blanchard Ryan
I knew I had to see this movie eventually, but every time I thought of the plight of two people stranded in the middle of the ocean by dive operators to be eaten by sharks, I'd be gripped with terror at the very thought.

There was a certain amount of media hand-wringing around the time Poltergeist came out, featuring as it did then five year old Heather O'Rourke as Carol-Anne and the horrors director Tobe Hooper (by way of Steven Spielberg) must have subjected her to during filming.

Well, there has never been any film I'd consider myself too scared to get involved with if I was an actor until now. I could never even watch it again, let alone perform in it. We only see Susan and Daniel stranded during the stormy night for less than a minute, and it's undoubtedly because director Chris Kentis simply couldn't stretch it out any more as it wasn't going to advance the story.

But it's almost as if their plight is too horrible to witness. We cut back to the hotel on land, where people are continuing their holiday, having fun, drinking and partying. To think there could be two people floating in the storm God knows how many miles offshore with sharks circling closer... It still makes me shudder thinking about it, and for that reason I don't think I'd hesitate to call this the scariest film I've ever seen in my life. The sense of horror, doom and helplessness are more complete than anything I've seen on a screen (a TV screen, as I was too scared to see it at the movies).

Stressed, overworked young lovers Daniel (Travis) and Susan (Ryan) go on holiday to an island paradise. We relate to them by watching them – almost documentary style – trying to extricate themselves from demanding jobs to leave, arriving and having a good time, shopping, deciding whether or not to have sex, going to sleep in their fresh hotel bed and taking a scuba diving tour to the outer reef early the next morning.

A simple mix-up on board when the divers emerge from the water means the head count goes wrong, and when Daniel and Susan surface the boat has left without them.

The notion that they might be dead in 24 hours – starved or eaten – seems as remote as the planet Mars. Surely nothing this ridiculous could happen, they think with growing dread, especially as they can see two more cruise boats on the near horizon.

What follows is the classic five stages of grief. There's denial, as Daniel screams 'unbelievable' to the empty sky. Anger, as the two fight over whose fault it is, trying to mask the desire to draw closer to protect each other against the impending terror. Bargaining, though they're denied even the slimmest chance. Depression, as they have to entertain the notion they might die out there. And finally acceptance, as Susan commits the final act in the film, too horrifying to even contemplate, let alone not mention so as not to give away the story.

Filmed over successive weekends covering more than a year with the actors in the water with live sharks directed by baits, it's a masterpiece of the most powerful ideas being the simplest.

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