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Like last year’s “Fall,” or Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours,” Max Erlenwein’s “The Dive” is another thriller about people stuck in an unimaginable life-threatening situation. It’s got a strong, relatable premise, and Erlenwein’s remake of the 2020 Norwegian film “Breaking Surface” does adequately capture the disorienting premise of being trapped underwater with increasingly limited oxygen. However, it’s too narratively thin and light on tension as Erlenwein too often breaks his stakes with flashback imagery and a dearth of actual thrills. “The Dive” feels routine, a soggy journey from point A to point B that doesn’t do anything interesting enough to make it stand out in the dog days of summer.
To be fair, Sophie Lowe is effective as Drew, the younger sister of May (Louisa Krause), from whom she has been estranged at times. Whereas Drew is excited about their current venture, May clearly has something on her mind that an adventure won't fix. Flashbacks will reveal some tension between the sisters as they head out on a dive. What’s better to heal sibling drama than putting your lives at risk together?
Filmed in Malta, the landscape of “The Dive” is nearly as barren above the water’s surface as it is below. Erlenwein’s camera makes it clear that these ladies are in the middle of nowhere—there will be no helpful hands nearby when something goes wrong. Some of the best material of “The Dive” is when cinematographer Frank Griebe allows the drone to soar in a way that shows this lack of human civilization around these women. Even a home that Drew finds later in the film seems abandoned. It’s almost post-apocalyptic in its complete lack of humanity.
May and Drew explore some deep underwater caves, finding a cave with oxygen they can breathe. As they continue exploring, something goes very wrong on the surface, leading to rocks plunging into the water. May avoids the boulder storm, but Drew is pinned under one of the projectiles. She can’t move. The clock instantly starts ticking. Can Drew get extra oxygen tanks and a jack to remove the boulder that’s pinned her sister? On her first mission, she has twenty minutes before she must be back with both. Of course, it’s not quite that simple.
While it’s admirable that Erlenwein treats May and Drew with respect—they instantly kick into well-considered action instead of the typical thriller trope of a bunch of idiotic decisions that only make things worse—there’s too little meat on the bones of this movie. It’s too generically straightforward, with some admirably dark underwater photography and reasonably decent performances, but nothing that grabs the viewer with any strength.
Not every waterlogged thriller needs to be as wonderfully ludicrous as “Underwater” or as B-movie thrilling as “The Shallows,” but “The Dive” is going to have difficulty holding the attention of anyone watching it at home on VOD. It may not sink like a stone, but a lack of urgency means it never really swims either.
On VOD now.