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‘Open Water’: How a $500,000 Indie Launched a 14-Year-Old Horror Franchise

"Open Water 3: Cage Dive" is the latest installment in a longstanding horror series — one that the original filmmakers never asked for.

open water

“Open Water”

Instead, Kentis said he was inspired by the Dogme ’95 manifesto, the playful declaration by a number of international filmmakers in the late ’90s to shoot their films on digital video with no simulated effects, including lighting and sound design. “We were trying to achieve a very naturalistic style,” he said, labeling the look of the film as a “vacation-video aesthetic.”

That concept eventually carried over to sequels. Lionsgate’s 2006 “Open Water 2: Adrift” is a more traditional horror riff on the material about ill-fated thrillseekers, and received mixed reviews. However, Kentis and Lau had nothing to do with it.

“Lionsgate called and said, ‘We’ll pay you some money if we can do this,’” Kentis said, “So we went along. I saw it eventually. It’s not a movie that I cared for.” (He has yet to see “Open Water 3.”)

Nevertheless, he and Lau said they’ve appreciated seeing the residual effect of the movie on other minimalist survival stories at sea, including last year’s surprise summer hit “The Shallows.” “It really spawned a whole kind of filmmaking, which is kind of cool,” Lau said. Kentis added, “Whenever this genre comes up, you see our film mentioned. It’s cool that we did something meaningful enough to stick around.”

Laura Lau, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese and Chris Kentis'Silent House' film premiere, New York, America - 06 Mar 2012

Laura Lau, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese and Chris Kentis at the premiere of
‘Silent House,’ 2012

Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock

However, the film’s popularity also had a long-term downside: They were pigeonholed as horror directors even as they gravitated toward other material. The couple floundered in development hell, with Kentis spending two years trying to make a movie about the USS Indianapolis that eventually fell apart.

“We were perceived a certain way that is not who we are,” Kentis said. “We got so many horror movie offers.”

Over the course of a decade, they circled various projects and worked on a number of unproduced screenplays; eventually, they tackled one of the horror properties that came their way, a remake of the Spanish thriller “Silent House” done in a single, unbroken shot. Open Road released the film in 2011, to positive reviews. “It was the first time one of these projects really intrigued us because it was an interesting cinematic challenge,” Kentis said. “Unfortunately, it cemented the idea that this was our genre. That’s just now how we see ourselves.”

Six years and many unrealized projects later, the couple grew frustrated with the studio system and went back to their roots. “We realized we may as well be doing our own material,” Kentis said. “We learned, over a period of time, that we had gotten sucked into the machinery where you’re playing by the standard rules of how Hollywood movies got made, and we’d forgotten what put us on the map on the first place.”

Earlier this year, Kentis shot a low-budget movie, “There You Are,” which he described as the story of “a man having a crisis about what really matters in life.” It’s a drama nothing like their last two features. “It’s the first time since ‘Open Water’ that something exists just to nurture our creative process,” Kentis said, noting that they don’t plan to finish the movie for festivals until next year. “I just want to get it right,” he said. “And if we do, hopefully, we’ll find an audience.”

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