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Spotlight on: Chris Kentis and Laura Lau's Open Water

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Cover of Open Water DVD Chris Kentis and Laura Lau's Open Water

When an annoying yuppie couple go on a scuba vacation, a careless mistake on the part of the boat crew finds the duo left behind, stranded in shark-infested waters in the middle of the ocean. For a relationship that was tense to begin with, this leads to alternating levels of blame and interdependence.

For me, Open Water was the must-see movie of the summer of 2004. I wasn't expecting perfection from this little indie flick (from the writer-director/producer husband-and-wife team behind Grind, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau), but I did think I would get to see a tight little thriller with some good fright scenes.

Unfortunately, Open Water does not deliver on its promise of scares. There are tense moments, to be sure -- especially once the sharks come in for a taste -- but neither I nor the person I was with ever felt any real terror.

Nevertheless, the writing and directing are solid -- a real feat given that Kentis and Lau also acted as cinematographers. The acting of the two leads carries Open Water, though. I especially liked how Blanchard Ryan (Susan) underplayed her scenes, letting her eyes show her feelings -- particularly during the courageous finale. Her screenmate, Daniel Travis, prefers to act with his voice, which makes him less effective during the tense sequences as his voice rises into frantic registers unnecessary to get the point across.

From a fright standpoint, I was disappointed, but on the whole, Open Water is a solid portrait of human misadventure. An independent film with blockbuster ambitions, there are many things about it to admire, not least of which is the fact (as explained in the DVD extras) that it was filmed on weekends over a long period of time -- while Kentis was holding down a full-time job. Kentis and Lau (each taking on at least two jobs on the film -- Kentis was also the editor) have taken digital video, really the only way to make movies these days on the cheap (also, the fewer sets, the better, as this shows), and made a surprisingly beautiful-looking film that doesn't show its origins as much as some others and that will hopefully act as a springboard for better things to come as well as inspiring future filmmakers.

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