The flagging Jaws-inspired shark terror cycle got a boost from the Dogme-style jitters of Open Water, which inspired a whole new stream of holidaymakers-in-peril movies … but its aesthetic also fed into the then-burgeoning found footage picture. Open Water isn’t a found footage film, but it looks a lot like one – and even has the performance style, improv-seeming script and inevitable lonely doom finish endemic in the Blair Witch spinoffs. Which brings us to writer-director Gerald Rascionto’s Cage Dive, a found footage gloss on Open Water that – unusually – stirs in a bit more pointed character interplay than usual. Despite the title, it doesn’t overlap much with 47 Meters Down – which is about sharks and cage diving – owing more kinship to other Aussie-made sharksploitationers (especially The Reef). It treads familiar water, but does it pretty well and though it’s the umpteenth repetition of this particular horror scenario the shocks still work and there are a couple of impressive (if wildly contrived) disaster moments (one involving a flare that gets set off at precisely the worst time and place).
A British diver (Mark Fell) discovers a video card at the bottom of the sea, and the film cuts between following the fates of the three Americans who primarily feature in the footage – they are supposed to be making an audition video for some internet daredevil contest – and interviews with mildly interested parties (an Australian cousin who hopes the Yanks might still be alive somewhere). Our principles are Jeff (Joel Hogan), Megan (Megan Peta Hill) and Josh (Josh Potthoff), who have their own tangle of relationships and secrets … and leave the camera running so we can catch up on them. Jeff, whose idea this is, plans to propose marriage to longtime girlfriend Megan – mostly in order to boost his chances of this tape landing him a shot at net stardom. He’s also keeping quiet about a health issue which would disqualify him from the contest. Megan and Josh are having an affair behind Jeff’s back – there’s a suspense sequence as Josh has to distract Jeff while footage of him smooching his pal’s best girl runs on a laptop in the foreground. The merry, if slightly off band head to Australia and go out on a boat with Josh’s Australian cousin Greg (Pete Valley) and try cage diving in order to get up close and personal (but safely) with sharks. Naturally, it all goes tits-up … and the threesome wind up bobbing in open waters along with a hysterical local girl (Suzanne Dervish-Ali) who doesn’t seem likely to last long.
Like many of these things, it has a short running time but still feels padded – the character establishing stuff is repetitive, and just knowing about these people doesn’t make us like or empathise with them (quite the reverse, actually) … and the sailing along happily set-up also has a kind of travelogue feel that just takes time (contrast with Open Water – where the dry land scenes are as edgy and unsettling as the ocean peril). But once in the water, as the secrets come out and the survivors turn on each other while sharks seem to play with them like cats with mice, it turns suitably nerve-wracking. After a sequence of Open Water bobbing about, an inflatable liferaft turns up and offers the illusion of safety (and a bit of visual variety) which doesn’t last long. The performances are fine, with Hogan especially getting some meat to chew on as the superficial jock who has everything pulled out from under him – and turns nasty, but doesn’t become an outright villain. You might think you’ve seen a dozen found footage shark movies, but this is actually a modest innovation – though it’s probably time to retire the sub-genre and the format for a good few years.