Blu-ray Review -- Double Feature: Open Water (2004); Open Water 2: Adrift (2006)

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Once trapped in near darkness with Phoenix temperatures well above a hundred degrees in a rickety stalled elevator with a handful of strangers including an almost-due pregnant woman, I can tell you with absolute honesty that we all cope with acute stress differently.

Confidence is usually our first mechanism. "Surely, these kinds of things don't just happen," we tell ourselves along with the old child-at-the-doctor one-liner of “this will all be over soon.” Happy endings are ingrained in us and saying them aloud become our security blanket coupled with halfhearted jokes of disbelief. However, one undeniable thing for any individual is the immediate infusion of adrenaline that sets in once you acknowledge the fact that you are in a situation over which you have zero control.

Unlike the natural way you experience the five stages of grief in real time in a safe place, you're thrust into jumbled, chaotic, fast-forwarded thinking in surreal time in an unsafe place and it's this type of visceral journey upon which you embark shortly after our heroes first jump into the ocean in director Chris Kentis' Open Water.

A simple mistake in the headcount by a scuba diving tour boat is all it takes for vacationing American couple -- Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) -- to be abandoned in the shark infested ocean, with only their packs, a single diver's knife and their swimmer's gear to protect them.

Unable to call for help with the touch of a button (had they been fortunate enough to have been stalled in the elevator with me instead), Daniel and Susan realize that unlike being stuck on land where people would notice their absence, a group of carefree strangers on a boat only know the loved ones with whom they're traveling.

Fearful of the strength of the current drifting them further off course all the while beginning to doubt if whether or not Daniel had gotten them lost from the rest of the pack, the two become horrified by the amount of tricks the ocean can play on them such as optical illusions which make distance and boats vs. buoys impossible to gauge.

Stuck treading water, the couple battle nausea from rocking waves, thirst for water they can actually drink, freezing temperatures, fatigue and an overwhelming sense of dreadful doom after taking inventory of the increasing number of sharks swimming in their midst.

Relying on Daniel's knowledge of the creatures gleaned from the Discovery Channel to try and stay alive, the surprisingly rational, logical and sharp twosome try to stay one step ahead of the surrounding predators eager to make them prey befitting of their fictitious surnames which were taken from the first two victims in Steven Spielberg's Jaws.

While needless to say, the couple turn on each other in playing the blame game as to why they're stuck out there, as we watch we realize that it's nobody's fault for – as horrifying as it is to admit – sometimes and for absolutely no reason whatsoever, senseless misfortune befalls us. And it's this bleak revelation that makes Open Water perhaps more emotionally draining than Lionsgate's previous low-budget indie turned box office sensation, The Blair Witch Project since at least the characters in Blair had more opportunities to be proactive than do the duo in the sea.

With absolutely zero contrivances and a near docudrama approach that never calls any attention to itself save for an early scene of pointless gratuitous nudity, Kentis and collaborator/spouse Laura Lau make excellent choices in emphasizing psychological terror to put us in our admittedly bland characters' scuba flippers rather than presenting us with a traditionally gory horror approach where the people turn into disposable props.

Inspired by a shocking true story, Water was written in under a week but shot with a digital camera over a period of two and a half years on weekends and holidays to that those involved could keep their day jobs.

And ultimately, Open Water, which spent a bulk of its budget on using a professional shark wrangler for the utmost in safety and authenticity, has become one of those out-of-nowhere, exceedingly rare but inspirational Sundance Film Festival Cinderella stories that reminds us that if you tell a universally relatable tale in as straightforward a manner as possible then people will respond.

While the lackluster technical specs make little difference in wowing us via the Lionsgate Blu-ray upgrade since once again, it's the plight of Daniel and Susan that commands our attention throughout, the informative extra features combined with the inclusion of the weaker sequel may make this a budget friendly addition for the “horror realism” genre of your high-definition library.

Capitalizing off of the success of Open Water, the studios involved added an unrelated but thematically similar movie of ocean terror to make Kentis' film a possible “franchise.” This faux-sequel was inspired by a short story simply titled Adrift from the larger work Dark Water that also inspired the Jennifer Connelly thriller of the latter name. And since online research revealed that it was derived from fiction, I honestly can't shed any light on whether or not – like the promotional advertising claimed – Open Water 2: Adrift was in fact (or at least somewhat) based on a true story.

Yet regardless of our suspicions, once you get past the lame home movie style footage that operates as a prologue and an introduction to our cardboard characters that's so cheesy you can barely watch without crackers, just like its predecessor, once everyone hits the water, the action starts. As far as technical qualities are concerned, Adrift has the upper hand as it's more professionally polished and slicker than the film that redefined our primal fear of abandonment.

Nonetheless the work that finds a small group of reunited high school friends in the sea after having forgotten to drop the ladder on one's yacht is bogged down by a largely self-centered group of “heroes,” that most of us wouldn't want to know in real life, let alone spend time watching on film. This is especially magnified since instead of a complete accident that cast Daniel and Susan away at sea in Water, Adrift puts the adults in what may very well be their saltwater graves by an unspeakable act of cruelty.

For when a young mother so traumatized by fear of the water that she wears a life jacket at all times is picked up by her brutish ex and deposited with him in the sea without her consent to try to cure her phobia leads to everyone being stuck without a ladder, we're so unbelievably mad that we can barely keep watching, particularly when reminded that her helpless baby is still aboard alone.

Obviously they can't go back in time to knock the idiot unconscious or decide to skip the invite to test out his yacht so grudgingly, the group must try to figure out some way to rectify the situation and I must confess that all resentment toward the main jackass aside, it's an intriguingly original situation to puzzle together.

Unfortunately, none of the six able-bodied, physically fit adults ever considers the obvious of forming a human ladder by piggybacking the tallest two with the strongest swimmers' assistance to boost one of them aboard or using the one knife in their possession to create a foothold. So instead we're forced to take in foolish attempts from standing on a slippery dolphin toy to making a “rope ladder” of tied-together skimpy bathing suits.

Whether it's an ironic red herring or the result of script changes, the filmmakers fail to pay off on a few carefully planted lines of dialogue early on including discussion of a life boat and the reminder that one character is both a surfing and skiing instructor and should have emergency training.

While obviously there's no accounting for hysterical panic and group think, the amount of times the characters just fail to try basic measures to get aboard boggles the mind and caused this reviewer to begin shouting back at the screen like an annoying female stereotype witnessed in a theatrical pre-feature “quiet, please” public service announcement.

When you couple the idiocy with melodramatic fights and one of the vaguest, most inconsistent and irritatingly mystifying conclusions imaginable wherein the filmmakers essentially cut together three possible endings in one so that nothing is absolute, resolved or logical, ultimately the movie sacrifices its initially infuriating yet entertaining concept for nonsense.

Of course, horror movies are notorious for leaving open the possibility of a sequel by making it uncertain whether or not a character lives or dies (think: Friday the 13th). But considering the fact that we can't even begin to comprehend what's going on with two of our leads at the end of the movie -- in terms of not only their life or death -- but their behavior as well, the genre gimmick is canceled out completely.

This being said, however, it's worth viewing once, especially since it's included on the same disc as the first title and is even more impressive visually in high-definition. Overall Adrift is the type of film that's probably best appreciated watching alongside a friend with a good sense of humor since you'll want to break the tension and stupidity with jokes for instead of the old Jaws adage that they need a bigger boat, the characters need bigger brains.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.