Open Water reportedly was made for about $179,000, shot on digital video, and may turn out to earn bigger box office bucks than that other inexpensive thriller, The Blair Witch Project. The story is based on real events. A husband and wife head to the Bahamas for a little rest and relaxation. They are high-energy go-getters, workaholics who enjoy each other’s company. The respite will recharge their psychic batteries. Emotionally, they are healthy. There’s a promise of no computers, but, well… you know go-getters. The couple joins a group on a scuba diving jaunt and after the coral reef swimming and fish watching is over, the charter boat crew forgets about them. They, Susan and Daniel, are left behind, bobbing like corks in the wide-open sea.

As simple as that is, that’s the movie. But like the very best of pure cinema, Open Water works on you like a jackhammer. It drags you in, plays with your fears, toys with your expectations, and delivers not only jolts, but also meaningful dialogue. Most of the film concentrates on the two lost souls and they’d better have something interesting to say to keep the audience alert. The filmmakers, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, real-life husband and wife, do the impossible. Because they are actually married, Kentis and Lau understand how couples talk. And when Susan and Daniel talk, what they say has the ring of truth. Tension, trepidation, blame, recrimination, relaxation, and humor are part of the package. I marveled at the idea that I was watching two people float in dangerous water for nearly an hour and was interested in who they were, what they had to say, and most importantly, their well being.

I also liked the fact that Kentis (who wrote, directed, edited, and co-shot the movie) and Lau (who produced and co-shot the movie) avoided fakery. Those are real sharks you are seeing. And I especially liked the fact that this is not a cheesy thrill-seeking film, with overwrought special effects and blood, blood, blood. The dread you feel is based on primal terror. Kentis’ editing is sublime. He builds fear like a master.

There’s a moment in Open Water when Susan and Daniel start to argue about who is at fault for their predicament. The dialogue is so real, that for a moment you forget they might be shark food. They are two married people having it out. Both Blanchard Ryan as Susan and Daniel Travis as Daniel are utterly believable in their roles.

Open Water is unerringly gripping. It feels real. And it’s smart. No dumbing down here. But perhaps even better, everything about this movie is dangerous.

Now on to The Door In The Floor. The movie is based on a novel by John Irving entitled A Widow For One Year. The film doesn’t burrow deeply into Irving’s satirically comic sensibilities, so what we see onscreen really doesn’t fully capture the notion that this is a comic novel. Of course, the rule is to review the movie, not the source material; therefore, the good news for audiences is that this is a first-rate film.

At first hearing, the subject matter doesn’t seem like fodder for laughter, even if it’s the knowing intellectual kind. Screenwriter-director Tod Williams captures, with less humor than the book, Irving’s compelling story of parents still recovering from the death of their two sons’ in an automobile accident five years before. The father, Ted Cole (a magnificent Jeff Bridges), is a children’s book writer and illustrator. He’s a pompous ass, a drunk, and an unrepentant womanizer. The mother, Marion (an outstanding Kim Basinger), has been reduced in the wake of her beloved sons’ deaths to being little more than a zonked out robotic form, a mother and wife in name only. She can barely be a parent to the four-year-old daughter she and Ted produced in a mistaken effort to replace the lost sons and help assuage their trauma.

The Door in The Floor takes place in Long Island’s tony Hamptons and confines itself to one doomed summer, during which Marion and Ted agree to a trial separation. A 16-year-old hopeful future writer named Eddie (a promising young actor named Jon Foster) arrives to work as Ted’s assistant. It quickly becomes clear to Eddie that Ted requires little more from him than driving the author to his next sexual conquest, which frees up a lot of time for Eddie to do things interns generally don’t do (unless it’s the presidential kind, I guess). The kid masturbates sniffing Mrs. Cole’s underwear.

Needless to say, he gets caught by the missus. There’s no retribution, but instead the older woman finds some joy in establishing a sexual relationship with the lad. The sex and the togetherness (not necessarily the same thing) are treated by writer-director Williams in a nonjudgmental way. Williams – whose first film was the very accomplished, semi-autobiographical, and little seen The Adventures of Sebastian Cole – has a real flair for visual and verbal punches. His ear for dialogue is pitch perfect. This is a movie about people who don’t often communicate, but when they do communicate, it’s with subtle jabs.

The film The Door in the Floor also doesn’t drip too much venom on the Hamptons the way Irving does in his novel. It concentrates on the people, but these are characters that hold your interest throughout. Williams has chosen to soften the blows, but his cast is so good, you occasionally want to see them break loose. In his way, Bridges understands what’s going on better than do the other cast members and sometimes better than Williams. He ratchets up the energy and you’re grateful for it, but overall this is still a fascinating exercise in marital disintegration. You feel the pain and anger of lives adrift. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

On the surface, Open Water and The Door In The Floor may not seem to have much in common, aside from the notion in their titles of having something to do with going under. But both movies are about something husbands and wives do in their marriage, those moments when they dissect issues important and mundane.

In Open Water, a low budget but high quality adventure set in the middle of the ocean, the married couple starts to peel away the layers of their relationship as they are surrounded by sharks. In The Door In The Floor, a tense big budget drama about well-to-do people who cheat, the married couple has peeled away the layers of their relationship until their skin is raw.