Open Water (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Open Water is a micro budget film about two vacationing divers who were mistakenly abandoned at sea by a scuba excursion boat. It was a real critical favorite, but my impression is that reviewers over-hyped this movie. The acting is below the professional level, the back story (slash) character development is mundane and trite, and there are some parts which are static and repetitious.

On the plus side, the film does have about three or four great scenes which are so filled with tension that you will be squirming in your seat.

1) At one point, the two yuppies are caught in a powerful lighting storm. They bob around, seeming to be miniscule elements dwarfed by massive waves and overwhelming thunder cracks, illuminated by a natural strobe effect created by lightning. This film does as good a job as any I have seen of showing the insignificance and powerlessness of man in the face of the brutal strength of the unharnessed elements.

2) As the divers are circled by sharks, the POV shots capture their fear and confusion perfectly. There's the fin, no it isn't. It's coming this way, no it isn't. It's big, no it isn't. Did something brush my foot, or was that you? How many are there? The divers' point of view switches rapidly from just barely above water to just barely below, just as it would in reality, offering tantalizing glimpses of the threat they face. This is especially effective as the end nears, when other people finally realize the divers are missing, and the sharks close in on them while an armada of boats and choppers engages in a frantic search.

3) The closing credits are spectacularly effective, but I can't really tell you why without spoiling at least two key secrets.

4) There is an unexpected last-minute plot twist which is quite emotionally affecting in a quiet way, kind of a "what did I just see?" moment that delivers its punch some time after it actually happens.

The film has been compared to The Blair Witch Project, and it does have both strengths and weaknesses in common with that earlier effort:

  • It was made on a shoestring budget with unknown actors.

  • The build-up of tension is good, the pay-off is not.

    • (This is not really a major negative, as I see it. I think that means the film concentrates on the psychological elements of fear rather than delivering the kind of gore and guts you might see in a slasher or splatter film. In case you care, this is not one of those "when animals attack" thingies where limbs are torn graphically from torsos.)


  • When the film is not delivering thrills, it fails to hold one's attention.

    • The dialogue is generally banal and ineffective, the actors are not very polished, and the quiet moments are so slow that my mind drifted completely away from the movie until a shrieking violin warned me that something was happening and snapped my head back up. A lot of critics complained that most of the film just consists of treading water. That is literally true, but also has metaphorical accuracy, in the sense that the film is dull and uninvolving until the big moments. I was drifting off at times until some tense music reminded me to snap to. 

    • (Again, I don't see this as a deal-breaking negative. A roller coaster ride is about the same, isn't it, except in more compact form? To those who said the film was a cheap stunt, I say - hey, that's pretty much what made it worth watching. It's not that much longer than a roller coaster ride at 75 minutes, and it delivers the same kind of alternating loose-taut involvement. The "loose" sections are calculated to be not merely peaceful, but to convey the loneliness inherent in their isolation from other humans and our technological world.)

I wouldn't really seek out this kind of film, because I don't like having my blood pressure manipulated like this, but I was impressed. The damned thing sure had my pulse going up and down, so I think it delivers what it is supposed to, namely solid management of tension on a miniscule budget.


Blanchard Ryan shows her breasts and most of her pubic area in a pre-sex scene in bed.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic, 1.85

  • several short deleted scenes

  • theatrical trailer

  • filmmakers guide to marketing an independent movie

  • "making of"

  • bonus "on location" footage

  • two separate commentary tracks: one with the producer and director, the other with the two stars

The film was hyped as a potential blockbuster and that never happened, but it did gross $30 million, which is damned impressive for a film made on a shoestring by virtual unknowns.


Open Water is an intense movie to begin with, but I think this flick could scare the livin' bejeezus out of you if you saw it after burning one. Don't even think about it, dude. Now THAT would be intense.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: three stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4, BBC 2/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. This micro-budget film had to have made a big profit just from the theatrical release alone. It grossed $30 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Despite some weaknesses, this is at least a C+. If you like this kind of movie, you will love this one. It may even be a B. I can see how a lot of people would appreciate this very short, emotion-packed thrill ride, in spite of its rough edges.

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