Written by: Gerald Rascionato and Stephen Lister
Directed by: Gerald Rascionato
Starring: Joel Hogan, Josh Potthoff, and Megan Peta Hill
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
First you find the sharks. Then they find you.
An old exploitation tactic is alive and well in Open Water 3: Cage Dive, which actually began life simply titled Cage Dive. Hatched in Australia as a completely original, standalone shark film, it was eventually acquired by Lionsgate, tagged with the Open Water label, and quickly dumped straight-to-video in an effort to capitalize on the success of 47 Meters Down. While that sounds pretty shameless, it’s not even the most shameless entry this “franchise” has seen: after all, Open Water 2: Adrift was similarly retitled, ditched the found footage approach, and didn’t even feature a single damn shark. Cage Dive certainly doesn’t have that problem: if you didn’t know any better, you’d assume this was a true sequel, right down to all of the melodrama getting in the way of the shark action.
It can’t figure out what type of “found footage” experience it’s going to be though. An opening title card informs us that deep sea divers recovered a camcorder from the bottom of the ocean and warns us that the footage is graphic, seemingly preparing us for a Blair Witch-style cinema verité experience. However, we’re then treated to news footage about a capsized boat in the Pacific, which stranded several tourists on a cave diving expedition in an ocean full of sharks. While several tourists were rescued, an American trio remains missing, at least until their footage is recovered, revealing their grisly fate. From this point, Cage Dive is something of a faux documentary that mixes the surviving footage with commentary from the trio’s friends.
Cage Dive isn’t a bad effort, particularly in this sea of modern shark nonsense. It lands somewhere far above the likes of SyFy’s fare but maybe a few notches below stuff like The Shallows and 47 Meters Down. It’s perfectly fine, if not a little misguided in its faux documentary approach, which only works to deflate and diffuse the tension of the “found footage” material. Found footage tends to be more effective with less context: it would have been perhaps a bit more engrossing to allow the story to unfold naturally, without the belabored attempts to make Cage Dive feel more like a conventional movie.
Also misguided: the decision to introduce needless drama to the proceedings. Our trio are a pair of brothers, Jeff and Josh (Joel Hogan & Josh Potthoff), plus the former’s girlfriend. He hopes she’ll soon become his fiancée, as he plans to propose to her; however, the camera accidentally captures an intimate exchange between Josh and Megan. Why filmmakers continue to lean on this awful cliché is beyond me: it certainly doesn’t make the characters more endearing, and it almost never seems to matter to the story at large. In this case, it’s sort of functions like Hitchcock’s bomb under the table: we know about the infidelity and are just waiting for it to blow up at the worst possible moment. Not that there’s ever a great moment for this sort of thing, especially when bloodthirsty sharks are circling you in the water. This, of course, only highlights why this subplot is so ridiculous and unnecessary: great white sharks terrorizing people adrift at sea is more than enough in terms of dramatic intrigue. There’s a reason Spielberg excised Ellen Brody’s affair with Hooper in his adaptation, you know?
Because Cage Dive actively courts contempt for 2/3rds of its characters (and it’s not like Jeff is super compelling itself), it practically invites the audience to simply enjoy what they really came to see: the sharks. In this respect, it delivers and then some. The cage diving footage is positively stunning, as the camera captures actual sharks up close: there’s a true sense of danger to this brief stretch, and you can’t help but commend the filmmakers for taking such a risk. If Cage Dive were simply a documentary, it’d kick a lot of ass because who doesn’t want to just marvel at great white sharks from a safe distance?
The boating disaster—and the trio’s subsequent ordeal in the open ocean—is pretty solid too. Director Gerald Rascionato deftly uses the POV aesthetic to his advantage here, capturing only a fleeting but terrifying glimpse of the huge wave that capsizes the boat. It’s a genuinely frightening little moment of pure chaos, as the main characters are submerged in a cage when the wave hits, plunging them further into the depths until they resurface to total and complete mayhem on the surface of the water. Fellow survivors swim for their lives, with one in particular sporting a ghastly head wound that’s brought to life with some of the sickest make-up effects I’ve ever seen. I gasped as a chunk of his head pulled away from his skull before cringing at how convincing it looks. I’m still not convinced they didn’t kill a guy while making this movie.
The fallout—and the stretch of the film that you expect from the Open Water branding—is solid, albeit with diminishing returns. Certain moments, like when dusk approaches with an ominous storm, are quite unsettling; likewise, the shark attacks are realized with a clever blending of convincing CGI effects and shaky cam footage that achieves a convincing effect. On a primal level, Cage Dive is terrifying: situations don’t come more hopeless or desperate than being stranded in the middle of a big, unfathomably vast ocean, even without sharks. Even glimmers of hope, like the fortunate arrival of a life raft, ends horrifically. Be careful with flare guns in close quarters, kids.
Unfortunately, even this stretch of the film wears a bit thin, especially when it resorts to all of the found footage staples: endless bickering, the tearful, close-up confessional, and, then, finally, the big blowup that tears the group apart before the sharks do their own damage. By this point, I could understand why Rascionato and company resorted to the documentary framework: without it, the film would barely be an hour long, and even less of that would be tolerable. Even in this form, it runs a brisk 71 minutes before the credits roll, which is admittedly merciful. However, it also keeps Cage Dive from feeling too substantial: there’s certainly a kernel of a great idea here, and it just so happens to be one that the original Open Water already executed very well.
Bestowing that name to Cage Dive does little to deflect the feeling that this is just a bit too much of a retread. Several moments tap into the obvious, primordial horror of watching people confront certain death at the hands of a savagely indifferent mother nature; too many other moments, however, insist that these horrible characters deserve it, and that makes all the difference.
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