Filmmakers have always set films in water with terrifying results. Just look at Jaws, a film that made something that was relaxing and fun into a place of pure horror. In Titanic, water was an unstoppable killing force as it was in films such as 47 Meters Down, which shares a very similar synopsis as The Dive.
Like in 47 Meters Down, it’s two sisters who are at the heart of Maximilian Erlenwein’s The Dive. Drew and May (Sophie Lowe and Louisa Krause) are headed to a remote, but picturesque diving location in order to mend their sisterly bond. Tragedy strikes as a rock falls on May, trapping her 28 metres below the surface with approximately 20 minutes of air left in her tank.
May has to advise and guide Drew back to the surface, where she must alert help and get some more air down to May. Things, obviously, do not go to plan.
The Dive is held back by the obvious similarities between it and 47 Meters Down. With a runtime of about 90 minutes, The Dive has a clear 3-act structure which leaves very little room for any surprises. It’s this overwhelming feeling of familiarity that lets The Dive down. The film thankfully benefits from the strong casting of Louisa Krause and Sophie Lowe, even if the script, written by Erlenwein and Joachim Hedén, tends to rely on tired cliches instead of something more authentic.
On a technical level, The Dive is excellent. The sound design is immersive and claustrophobic. There is real, palpable terror in May’s situation even if the film sometimes forgets about her in order to follow Drew. The film is a terrifying, uncomfortable reminder of the dangers of water, especially in the aftermath of the Titan submersible disaster.
In terms of the style of the film, The Dive feels a little impersonal. It looks more like a TV movie than a cinematic work of art and with clumsy dialogue, it also feels like it. There are huge, awkward exposition dumps, especially early on in the film when we’re establishing the relationship between Drew and May. The twists and turns of the plot all happen a little too conveniently and the story never feels organic, but mechanically crafted and structured.
With a lot of really tight close-ups combined with the darkness of the underwater world, it’s often a challenge to see what’s going on. It’s a film that will probably benefit from being watched on a big screen, but it lacks the clear, inspired direction of 127 Hours or Gravity.
The narrative of the film also feels a little too close to Fall. Both films suffer from making you believe that their protagonists, experienced divers/climbers, would attempt something pretty dangerous and fail to tell anyone about it. If you’re able to let that go, The Dive is a relatively tense, if deeply flawed affair.
Erlenwein is able to build and maintain tension, but the film’s formulaic and overly familiar narrative works against itself. The ticking clock element of the narrative is underused and The Dive feels like it has so much potential, but no clear direction where it wants to head. At its best, the film offers light thrills and some thoroughly claustrophobic visuals, but it leaves much to be desired.
The Dive is screening at FrightFest on Thursday 24 August and in UK cinemas 25 August.