Released in 2017, Cage Dive is the third installment in the Open Water franchise. Once again, a group of friends are floating out in the middle of the ocean. Once again, there are sharks. There’s interpersonal conflict. There’s death and chattering teeth and plenty of debate about who deserves the blame and whether or not it’s a good idea to try to swim after a passing boat. Again, it’s hard not to feel that the whole situation could have been avoided with just a little common sense.
However, there is one big difference. This time, the story is told through …. found footage!
That’s right! Not only are Jeff (Joel Hogan), his brother Josh (Josh Potthoff), and his girlfriend Megan (Megan Peta Hill) floating out in the middle of the ocean but Josh is determined to film the whole thing. “Turn off the camera!” Megan shouts. “Guys, we said we were going to film the whole thing!” Josh shouts back. Meanwhile, the sharks are amazed at just how easy their hunt has gotten lately.
Why is Josh filming? Josh is obsessed with getting on a reality show and he’s making an audition tape. In order to prove that the three of them are wild and fun enough to get on television, he comes up with the idea of flying to Australia and going on a cage dive. (A cage dive is when you get in an underwater cage and dare a bunch of sharks to eat you.) Unfortunately, a sudden tidal wave causes the boat to capsize and …. well, you can guess the rest.
Sharks aren’t the only problem that Jeff, Josh, and Megan have to deal with. First off, Jeff has a heart condition and he hasn’t been taking his medication. Secondly, Josh and Megan have been having an affair. How long can they float in the ocean before all the secrets come out?
Usually, I can’t stand found footage films and the first half of Open Water 3 features everything that drives me crazy about the genre. There’s way too many scenes of people saying, “Are you filming?” and “Are you getting this?” It’s hard not to notice that the camera somehow always seems to be in exactly the right location to catch Megan undressing or Jeff’s mother asking him if he’s remembered to take his medication. With the exception of one clever scene where Josh attempts to keep Jeff from seeing footage of Megan cheating on him, it all feels rather awkward and it seems like it takes forever to actually get them into the water….
However, once they actually get into the water, the film picks up. It’s not that Jeff, Josh, and Megan somehow become any more likable. However, director Gerald Rascionato makes good use of the shaky aesthetic of the found footage genre to keep us just as off-balance and confused as the people in the water. Like them, we find ourselves struggling to figure out where the sharks are coming from. The film ends with a nice homage to The Blair Witch Project, with the witch replaced by a shark. It works far better than you might expect.
Even the film’s biggest flaw becomes a strength. Yes, the three main characters may not be likable and they may not be very smart. From the minute you hear Josh telling Megan to be careful with a flare, you know that we’re eventually going to get an exploding life raft. But their stupidity is disturbingly relatable. I hope I’m never stranded at sea because I’d probably accidentally set off a flair as well. More importantly, you don’t really regret the fact that none of these people are probably going to survive. If anyone in the film was likable, Open Water 3 would be unbearably depressing. Since they’re not, you’re free to root for the sharks.
And believe me, you will.