Movie Column 

Real sharks, real fear. Tom Cruise, generic thrills.

Fear is interesting stuff. Pretty much everyone is afraid of something. I really don’t like spiders, I wouldn’t say I’m absolutely terrified of them but they creep me out. Especially those big, bastard, hairy ones with sour looks on their hateful, eyeball-covered faces, just waiting for a chance to pump their venom into us. Ugh.

Some people are afraid of heights, most are afraid of commitment, and my buddy Scotty, he’s scared shitless of sharks, so much so that he gets nervous on any boat smaller than the Nanaimo ferry. However, Scotty’s fear is accompanied with intent fascination and so he’s a bit of a shark expert, and he’s the one who turned me onto to the newest shark horror movie, Open Water, released in select cities this Friday.

Directed by newcomers Chris Kentis and Laura Lau and starring no one you’ve ever heard of, Open Water is less like horror classic Jaws and more like low-budget anomaly The Blair Witch Project . This movie, shot cheaply on digital video and loosely based on a true story, focuses on Susan and Daniel, two cell phone- and laptop-addicted yuppies who squeeze a tropical vacation into their busy lives. After leaving their group while scuba diving and attempting to get as much time underwater as possible, the couple surface to find that the tour boat and guide have disappeared. It seems the guide botched a headcount before heading home, stranding our protagonists at sea. (Knowing how much attention most tourism industry workers actually pay to their jobs, I find this highly believable.)

Susan and Daniel spend most of their time laying blame on each other and arguing. This, combined with occasional bad acting, make it a bit difficult to empathize or care about the unhappy couple and the movie suffers for it.

But wait, this fish story has one hell of a hook. They use real sharks, real jellyfish, real thunderstorms. That’s right, no special effects, no computer animation. It’s the real deal. Actual sharks zipping around real people’s legs is as unnerving to watch as anything captured on film lately.

For a movie that focuses on two people bobbing in a flat blue ocean, the potential for boredom is constantly there. But Blair Witch taught us that what you can’t see is often more scary than what you can, and in Open Water we know the big, empty ocean isn’t really empty at all. The crappy digi-quality film often makes the sharp crest of a wave look a lot like a shark fin and we spend a lot of the movie nervously wondering, "What was that? Was that one?" Which is exactly what you’d do if you were in the water.

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