First things first. Adrift does sound awfully like a certain watery smash-hit from 2003. And while the concept behind Hans Horns’ B-movie thriller (six people, rather than two, stuck out in the ocean) implies Open Water taken to the max, this tense B-movie carries a different peril for its bobbing cast, squabbling in the water as time ticks away.
Like Open Water, genuinely horrific shocks are few: James’ lung-bursting race to the surface and subsequent, bloody noggin-thud against the bottom of the boat being a guaranteed audience-whimper moment. Instead, it’s the horrifying, human banality of the premise (“You forgot to put the ladder down!”) and sheer desperation that builds excruciating tension, minute after helpless minute. Briny panic sets in and the endless big blue threatens to engulf them one by one. Then the baby starts crying...
That’s the emotional gut-punch that spikes a much-needed urgency into the soap opera. Optimistically promo-ing itself as a “sociological thriller”, the pitch is Hitchcock’s Lifeboat – without the boat. But as the characters’ escape attempts run dry and their increasingly implausible irrationality wears the patience, Adrift’s script starts to look soggy. Playboy buffoon Dan (X-Men: The Last Stand’s Eric Dane) and his caricature of a floozy girlfriend, Michelle (Cameron Richardson), make like Hollyoaks on the high seas, leaving James, his wife Amy (the excellent Susan May Pratt) and their stranded nipper to anchor the drama. They’re the sort of decent, hard-working people you cared about in Open Water, making Adrift less a drama about six and more a melodrama about two.
No surprise, then, that US studio bigwigs want to re-tag the film Open Water 2. Latching on to the shared theme of hopeless abandonment and the unbeatable, “What the hell would I do?” hook, Adrift still can’t help but suffer from washing up too soon after Chris Kentis’ nail-biter. Horn may be the unluckiest man in cinema (he says he pitched his film prior to knowing about Open Water), but then again, didn’t salty sailors always used to say the sea was a choosy mistress?