Spring Breakdown #4: Open Water 3: Cage Dive (dir by Gerald Rascionato)

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.

Spring Breakdown #3: Open Water 2: Adrift (dir by Hans Horn)

The 2006 film, Open Water 2: Adrift, is a film about a group of people who are literally too stupid to live.

Now, that may sound like a harsh judgment but just consider what this film is about.  A group of shallow friends get together for a birthday party on a yacht.  They head out to the middle of the ocean.  One-by-one, they all get into the water.  One of the friends has been terrified of the water ever since her father drowned in front of her.  She doesn’t want to get in the water so, of course, the owner of the boat picks her up and jumps overboard with her.  With the exception of a sleeping infant, everyone is now in the water.

Oh!  And guess what!

It didn’t occur to anyone to lower the ladder before getting in the ocean.  That means there’s no way to get back on the boat!  And now, everyone’s stuck in the water where they’ll presumably eventually die of either hypothermia or just general stupidity.  They’ll also end up yelling at each other and arguing about whose fault it is.  They’ll all discuss issues of wealth, religion, and envy.  There’s nothing like a weighty theological discussion being conducted by a bunch of idiots floating in the ocean.

Of course, they do make a few attempts to get back on the boat.  One guy tries to use a knife to climb back up the side of the boat but he just ends up getting stabbed instead.  An attempt to grab hold of an American flag just leads to desecrated symbol of patriotism.  One girl decides to pray, just to be reprimanded by the group atheist.  At one point, everyone takes off their swimsuits and they attempt to tie them into a makeshift rope.  It doesn’t work but now everyone’s naked.  This movie knows what it’s doing.

We get a lot of shots of people floating listlessly in the ocean.  In order to pad out the run time, there’s a lot of pointless slow motion.  Amy (Susan May Pratt), the hydrophobe, has a flashback to her father’s death and it’s amazing how little sympathy the film manages to generate for someone who watched helplessly while a parent drowned.  Because Amy’s supposed to be scared of the water, she spends most of the movie floating around with this dumbass look on her face.  I’m a hydrophobe too.  If I found myself in this situation, I’d probably scream until I exhausted myself and drowned.  But I wouldn’t float around with this stupid beatific look on my face.

This film was sold as being a sequel to Open Water, though it actually went into production before Open Water was released.  After Open Water was a surprise box office success, the film’s title was changed from Adrift to Open Water 2: Adrift.  There are obvious similarities between the two films but the major difference is that the couple in Open Water ended up stranded through no fault of their own.  On the other hand, the folks in Open Water 2 were just too dumb to lower a ladder.

Open Water was effective but depressing.  Open Water 2 is just kind of stupid.

Spring Breakdown #2: Open Water (dir by Chris Kentis)

So, who wants to spend 80 minutes watching two people slowly die?

That’s the question that’s posed by the 2003 film, Open Water.  Apparently, quite a few people had a positive response to that question because Open Water, which was made for about $120,000, went on to gross over 55 million dollars.  It also inspired two sequels and it continues to be something of a mainstay on the SyFy channel, where it usually airs during Shark Week.

I have to admit that, largely because I have a huge phobia about drowning, I didn’t see Open Water until three years after it was initially released.  I watched it with my cousin Paulie.  At the end of the film, he exclaimed, “Oh, nice fucking movie, Lisa Marie!,” and I understand where he was coming from.  There’s not much hope or positivity to be found in Open Water.  It’s not a happy film.  Instead, it’s a movie about a couple who end up getting stranded in the middle of the ocean.  Eventually, one of them gets eaten by sharks while the other one drowns.

That may sound like a spoiler but really, it’s not.  From the minute we first see Daniel (Daniel Travis) and Susan (Blanchard Ryan), we know there’s no way they’re getting out of the movie alive.  They’re both so happy about taking a vacation and finally getting to spend some quality time together that it’s obvious that there’s no way things aren’t going to end in tragedy.  Their vacation takes them to the Caribbean, where they hope to go scuba diving.  Unfortunately, their scuba diving group leaves without realizing that Daniel and Susan are still underwater.  When the two of them resurface, they discover that they’re stranded out in the middle of the ocean.

At first, they assume that someone will notice them missing and come back to rescue them.  They make jokes about how this is a story that they’ll be able to tell for the rest of their lives.  They laugh.  They joke.  They briefly argue.  Daniel gets frustrated and spends a while screaming with splashing water.  Eventually, the jelly fish arrive and they both get stung.  Then. the sharks show up….

It’s all very dark and depressing and the film certainly did not help me with my fear of swimming.  Imagine Jaws if the whole film was just an hour and a half of Chrissie Watkins getting eaten by the Great White and you kind of have an idea of what Open Water was like.  As a result of the film’s low-budget, Open Water has an effectively rough, documentary-like feel to it.  Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan seem like any ordinary couple that you might run into while on vacation.  They’re easy enough to relate to that you certainly don’t want to see them die.

Unfortunately, after Daniel and Susan get stranded out in the ocean, the film gets stranded along with them.  At that point, all you can do is watch as they two of them get eaten by undersea life.  It gets a bit tedious.  One imagines that Werner Herzog could probably make this material compelling and, whenever I watch Open Water, I like to imagine the sound of Herzog saying, “I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder.”  However, as it is, Open Water is one of those well-made films that leave you with no desire to ever watch it again.