31st Aug2023

Frightfest 2023: ‘The Dive’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Louisa Krause, Sophie Lowe | Written and Directed by Maximilian Erlenwein

Written and directed by Maximilian Erlenwein, The Dive is an English language remake of the 2020 Swedish thriller Breaking Surface, which is basically the same story, only colder, due to it being set in northern Norway. As such, it’s an effective and engaging survival horror, not too far removed from 2022’s horror hit The Fall, which had two women stuck up a pole, as opposed to two women stuck underwater. You could also, somewhat less generously, see it as 47 Metres Down without the sharks.

Louisa Krause and Sophie Lowe play May and Drew, two sisters of a similar age, who have become semi-estranged as a result of a recent event – we assume the death of their father, though that’s never explicitly stated. Whatever the incident, May is still harbouring some resentment towards Drew (flashbacks belatedly hint at the reasons why), but as the more experienced diver of the pair, she has reluctantly agreed to accompany her sister on their annual getaway activity, namely, diving down to explore underwater caves at a remote-but-beautiful coastal location (actually Malta, standing in for somewhere unnamed).

The initial dive proceeds as planned, until an unexpected rockfall pins May to the ground and traps her leg, 28 metres below the surface. With only limited supplies of oxygen left, she sends Drew back to the surface to try and get help and bring back spare oxygen tanks, warning her that she’ll have to take decompression breaks to avoid a nasty case of the bends.

Lowe is excellent as Drew, delivering an impressively physical performance – one scene in particular starts to look like abject cruelty, as Erlenwein films her running over a long distance in a single, unbroken take, and it takes you out of the film a bit as you start to hope he didn’t make her do re-takes. She also does a terrific job of conveying Drew’s mounting desperation and creates a believable bond with Krause that hints at the guilt she feels over why they have become estranged.

Krause has less to do physically, seeing as she spends most of the movie trapped underwater, but she’s the one who gets the emotional arc and she makes the most of her key moments, especially when May is angrily hallucinating the things she wished she’d said to Drew at a certain moment. The script also presents her with a compelling challenge, in that she has to convey the terror of her possible underwater death without actually showing emotion, because she needs to conserve oxygen.

Crucially, the film nails the central emotional hook, where the shared experience brings the semi-estranged sisters back together. However, there are a number of problems along the way, not least that Drew isn’t afforded the same emotional space as May, which feels like an imbalance – only May gets to experience flashbacks to their childhood, for example, and it might have been interesting to see the same events from Drew’s perspective.

On top of that, the film has a maddening lapse of plausibility when it comes to depicting the plot-driving rockfall. There are no shots of it from above the water, so it’s hard to work out how the rockfall both buries the spare oxygen tanks on the beach (a crucial plot point) and traps May underwater, when their diving location is nowhere near the initial beach. The film is also guilty of some unintentional hilarity, most notably Drew’s amusingly extreme solution to the problem of how to get the car boot open. (It’s possible that this scene is deliberately played for laughs, but if that’s the case, Erlenwein doesn’t quite get the tone right).

Despite its flaws, The Dive delivers nicely in terms of tension, pacing and an engaging central relationship, but you can’t help thinking that a couple of judiciously deployed sharks might have given it a bit more bite.

*** 3/5

The Dive screened as part of this year’s Frightfest London.


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