Purporting “nerve shredding terror”, Adrift (aka Open Water 2) instead offers aphasia and eventual comatose. Invariably, watching six people tread water for over an hour will have that anaesthetizing effect. In a mildly interesting commentary on the stupidity of contemporary youth, a group of teenaged friends – seen earlier in the film cavorting on a spring break getaway, probably drunk and flashing their titties – reunite several years later older, unwiser, and having clearly not evolved. The egregiously chiselled stud of the sextet, Dan, commandeers a million-dollar yacht for their weekend cruise; somewhere in the middle of the ocean, they all decide to go for a swim. Someone forgets to lower the ladder. What follows is a fruitless and hilarious series of attempts to climb back onboard – grab onto the stern’s American flag (which symbolically tears, and is seen in close-up flittering in the wind), phone home via a wet cellphone, make a rope out of everyone’s swimwear – before each succumb to fatigue, self-inflicted wounds, or despair. Unlike the original Open Water’s scuba verite conceit (to which Adrift is a gimmicky and wholly unsanctioned ‘sequel’), the presentation here is nauseatingly commercial, while the potential for what lies beneath is incredibly ignored. Offsetting the inane and badly delivered dialogue in Open Water was a palpable surface tension, where real sharks would randomly break through the water. In Adrift, the threat of Jaws activity never eventuates – all the more bewildering, given when one of the characters is accidentally stabbed, plumes of shark-attracting blood cloud the water. In their absense, we get something far more terrifying: desperate, shitbrained young adults wondering if God will come to their rescue.

Elsewhere, desperation is amplified to dizzying extremes in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, a watermark of torture movies, made long before Hostel and Saw exploited the threshold of human endurance. The dance marathon of the film – a grueling feat of non-stop jiving, waltzing, and predatory encircling over the course of nearly an entire month – is actually one in a catalogue of eliminatory, prize-bearing competitions, from the last-man-standing melodrama of Hands on a Hardbody, right through to the numerous incarnations of Survivor, making this Sydney Pollack adaptation of Horace McCoy’s novel an early template for Reality TV. And while its depiction of human spectacle is potently entrenched in the harsh times of the Depression Era, not a lot else has changed: between the haves and the have nots, the carrot of the American Dream still dangles in clear view; Hollywood still beckons as the holy grail; people will still do anything for their 15 minutes of fame. So as the film’s marathon competitors experience days of humiliation, physical/emotional pain, and a fledgling sense of hope, they are staring back at a reflection of every deluded and deranged American Idol contestant. Like noxious shows of that ilk, talent is perceived as nonessential to making it into the spotlight: just as long as you’re willing to degrade yourself, people will take notice, and revel in the theatre of your suffering. What’s infinitely excruciating about They Shoot Horses though is how the onset of futility simmers quietly, if unbearably, before exploding towards the surface: first you think it’ll be over within a week, then the monotony kicks in, then you stop rooting for Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin, and then out of nowhere, at the whim of a trigger, he’s telling the cops “they shoot horses, don’t they?”, the camera begins to pan away, the screen fades to black, and the dance marathon never ends. No one wins. Not even Reality TV can lay claim such a cruel and unexpected twist.—Tim Wong

» Hans Horn | Germany | 2006
» Sydney Pollack | USA | 1969