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With Open Water, writer-director Chris Kentis and his producer/cinematographer wife, Laura Lau, challenge one of the fiercest predators known to modern filmdom: Jaws, the movie that ate most of Hollywood’s pre-1975 conventions. To tell a low-budget fish story dubiously billed as “based on true events,” Kentis and Lau renounce both old-school Spielbergian animatronics and today’s CGI, pitting their two principal characters against actual (albeit not Great White) sharks. Daniel and Susan (Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan) are stressed American workaholics who’ve managed to synchronize their schedules long enough to take a Caribbean vacation. The couple joins 18 other scuba divers on an underwater excursion, but when they surface, there’s no boat. Thanks to a sloppy head count, the crew assumed everyone was onboard and headed back to shore. Too far from anything to swim, and caught in a current that’s moving them in an unknown direction, Daniel and Susan float together, alternatively bonding, bickering, and panicking. Then they start to see the gray fins of sharks, which circle closer and—well, it’s supposed to be a surprise. For the bulk of its 79 minutes, Open Water shows only water, sky, sharks, and the two helpless divers. Daniel and Susan’s world is also the viewer’s, with no cuts to other characters or locations to provide a respite. The intent is to create an intense, almost physical, bond between the audience and the characters, much as Touching the Void did. (The continually bobbing camera could even induce mild motion sickness.) Yet in dramatic structure, the two movies are quite different. Though the plight of Touching the Void’s Andean climbers was immense, it required action: To survive, the two mountaineers had to descend the mountain. Daniel and Susan, however, can only float; whether or not they survive, they’re just shark bait. Perhaps the filmmakers were seeking to remedy this lack of development when they swamped the film with music, which was a crucial error. The gospel songs and Afro-Caribbean chorales are so loud that they undermine the narrative: You have to wonder why Daniel and Susan are swimming with the sharks when they clearly could hop on the boat that, just out of frame, is carrying the choir. —Mark Jenkins