FEBRUARY 25, 2013
Someday (post HMAD) I will take another look at Open Water, because my memories aren't the warmest and yet I like a lot of the movies that it has inspired, so maybe I'm just remembering it wrong. Black Water is basically the same thing but with a crocodile (just as the filmmaker's next film, The Reef, was Open Water with four people instead of two), and was almost assuredly influenced by it - the characters are trapped in one spot, no one thinks they're missing, and (of course) it's based on a true story, though unlike Open Water's case I can't find the "actual" story it's based on - if anyone can point me in the right direction, I'd be much obliged.
One major difference is the photography - one thing I DO clearly remember about Open Water is that it wasn't the best example of digital video I've ever seen, but this looks pretty terrific, and it's less chaotically shot to boot. One of the best bits in the film was a long unbroken shot of the croc (barely seen as he's beneath the surface) swimming toward one of our heroes as they attempted to get back into their boat, and it works like gangbusters. We know exactly how far apart they are and how fast it's closing in, a far cry from the usual, less successful approach of cutting back and forth between closeups and POVs and whatever the hell else in order to a. make it more "exciting" (fail) and b. hide the rubber or CGI monster.
But they don't have to worry about that here, because this is all real crocodile, with the exception of a few model shots. Utilizing some pretty terrific compositing work (I was actually shocked to discover one shot was pasted together from two elements when I saw it in the making of), we get to see a real croc often in the same shot with the actors, which adds immensely to the film's "minor gem" status. As in those other films, this isn't a giant or monster beast - he's regular sized and simply hungry/territorial, which to me is always scarier than the giant ones anyway. Even with the best CGI or model work in the world, if the thing is 50 feet long and swallowing cars or whatever the hell, it just becomes silly regardless of its technical merits. Here, the realistic threat is enough to forgive the occasional bad shot (oddly, one that could have been faked with forced perspective sticks out as the worst), and even the thing that should have been a handicap - not seeing the villain actually kill any of the victims - ends up being a plus. At one point a guy is pulled under and we're not sure he's dead - until the thing surfaces with the corpse ( a dummy) hanging out of the sides of its jaws. It's such a great shot - like the croc is showing the others "You're next!" (great musical cue here too), and I got pretty spooked, all without seeing any actual violence. Well played!
I also liked the characters - they barely ever bicker and are quite close - it's a guy, his wife, and her sister. They're happily married, the sister isn't seen as a 3rd wheel or anything - it's so refreshing that no one thought having them angry with each other or going through problems would help the movie any. No, we like them and want them to survive, and thus it's sad when they don't. It's also not easy to peg the survivor (if there IS one!), and they also get rid of the most obviously expendable character (their boat guide) pretty much instantly. Indeed, I have no idea how he actually dies - the croc tips their boat and he's just instantly dead, floating in the water face down with no visible wounds (I guess it's possible that he was unconscious and just drowned, though as shot the movie simply skips over his presence until a few minutes have gone by, so it's moot). I kept thinking maybe he'd come back as a (lame) surprise, but later they find his ear, and the rest of his corpse proves to be useful in the 3rd act.
Plus, as I've explained many times (enough to be mocked!), I'm afraid of anything that lives in the water, so it's not hard to get me all tensed up watching these sort of things. The characters have almost no real shelter (they spend a while in a low hanging branch, but Mr O'Dile can probably snatch one of them out of it pretty easily if he wanted), and the boat tips at the 15 minute mark, so the danger is pretty constant. I'm not comparing at all and obviously it is the superior film, but to use an example everyone can understand: Jaws takes a while to get on the water - as someone who's afraid of it, the movie gives me plenty of chances to relax in the first 90 minutes or whatever it is before the Orca sets off (and even then, it's not like Bruce is going to come swimming inside when Quint is telling his Indianapolis story). So for whatever faults this movie has (Jaws has none), my own fear of this sort of situation smoothed them over - if anything they could have ramped it up for folks like me by having leeches or snapper turtles or whatever pose a threat as well.
The disc has a few extra features, nothing mind-blowing unless you count those composite shots that you see "before/after" style on the making of, which otherwise covers the casting, the tough shooting conditions (lot of mud, brief windows where they could shoot for continuity and tide reasons), and all that sort of basic stuff. But it's more informative than the sleepy commentary with producer/writer/directors David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki (the latter of whom was the one behind The Reef; Nerlich seems to have gone into the VFX world), as they cover some of the same ground while also giving glorified narration or talking about basic character traits like "He's more impulsive than her" about two characters that die anyway. I've heard worse, but the making of should pretty much do you just fine, and you can also skip the deleted scenes which add little and no one is on board to explain why they were cut anyway (pacing, I assume). The trailer and spots for other Sony releases from 2007 (30 Days of Night! Boogeyman 2!) round things out - a perfectly serviceable set of bonus material for an above average entry in the mid 00s wave of "realistic" water-borne horror movies.
What say you?