Open Water (2003)

Rated R Our content rating: V-5; L-5; S/N-5.

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me…
rescue mefrom sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.
Psalm 69:1-2, 14-15

Open Water

If you are heading for a beach vacation or a cruise, you might want to postpone plans if you watch this absolutely chilling deep-sea thriller. Based on an actual occurrence of two scuba divers left behind in “open water,” the film might make you reconsider your plans and head for the desert or the mountains instead. Shot on digital video with a peanuts budget of $30,000, director Chris Kentis and producer Laura Lau (who both did double duty as cinematographers) have come up with a film that reaches far deeper into the psyche of viewers than a dozen multi-million dollar studio productions.

As children or as adults, perhaps as a member of a group traveling together, most of us have known the fear of being left behind. Thus we readily identify with Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) when they come to the surface of the ocean and discover that their tour boat has gone. Two workaholics, the married couple had booked a beach and ocean vacation so that they can reconnect and find some relaxation together. Through a miscount, the boat crew, thinking that all the divers have climbed aboard, pull up anchor and head back to the distant port. The camera, operating at head-height, at which even small waves obscure one’s vision, shows us what the two swimmers see—a vast expanse of water and a cloud-strewn sky.

At first the couple argue, the wife accusing the husband of surfacing at the wrong spot. He is certain, however, that they are where they should be, and he can prove it. They see another distant boat, but Daniel discourages Susan from vainly swimming toward it, saying that it would be better if they stay put, lest the boat crew not find them when they return for them. He is absolutely certain that the crew will soon discover their error. After several hours it becomes evident that this will not happen, that they will be spending the night treading water. Their conversation ranges from arguing, recriminations, reassurances, and declaration of love despite everything. Worse than being alone—and abandoned—is the realization that they are not alone; they can see the fins of sharks and sometimes even feel their presence. And so can we, the film becoming even scarier than the champion of all shark films, Jaws.

In their excellent book Finding God in the Movies Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston cite film writer/director Jon Boorstin’s “three words starting with v—voyeuristic, visceral, and vicarious” as making up the magic of movies. “Head, gut, and heart” they call the complete movie experience. A film must seem real or plausible; it must touch our emotions; and it must draw us in so that we identify with one or more of the characters and their fates. Open Water certainly meets all three criteria, and on a budget that is less than most productions spend for catering services. This is one film you will not soon forget.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) What fears of, and experiences of, being left behind or abandoned have you had?

2) What stages do we see Susan and Daniel passing through as the starkness of their situation grows on them? (Disbelief; anger and rage; blaming; pleading and mutual support; acceptance.)

3) How does the Psalmist show that he also has gone through such an experience? (Browse through Psalms and see if there other such cries for help.)

4) What prayer does the couple offer up? We can hear the words—until what phrase or petition? What do you make of this petition in the light of the film’s ending? Where do you think is God in this film?