The ocean has a lot for humans to fear – whether on the surface in the case of films like Jaws’ great white shark fin of death or a beautiful, but daunting bottomless abyss. Maximilian Erlenwein’s The Dive doesn’t look to waste time to find its extremely tense scenario – where 2022’s Fall set up more of an entire backstory and motivations between its main characters; this film only provides enough context for things to go awry.
At the heart of the matter are two sisters named Drew (Sophie Lowe) and May (Louisa Krause) headed on their annual diving trip. Their interactions while driving to their destination are not exactly the warmest. They share brief life updates, briefly expand upon the state of relations with their mother, and have a slightly tense moment over playing The Planters ‘Only You’ (May is not a big fan of that song in particular). Even as this is a time-honored tradition, May doesn’t seem into it this goes around – it’s more out of obligation to keep this bond with her younger sister.
Everything goes to plan at first – scuba gear and oxygen tanks in tow, they both dive into a serene and surreal underwater landscape. Cinematographer Frank Griebe allows for the vastness of the caves and the expansiveness of the water to overtake you as much as it does the main character. We see a lack of light as the characters do and thus lulled into a false sense of security. Suddenly, an avalanche of rocks falls, and May is pinned in a rock bed, unable to move with only 20+ minutes of oxygen. Instantly, everything is on a clock, and Erlenwein’s remake of the 2020 Swedish film doesn’t let up on the increasing anxiety of how difficult this task is.
For starters, there are clear objectives, but to Lowe and Krause’s credit, they portray them in a way that feels like it’s not mindless guessing about what to do next. Even with May in a dire predicament, she steadies the ship and gives directions for Drew to follow. In that, The Dive doesn’t send Drew on a wild goose chase – there are intentional things she has to do to save her sister. The challenges she meets are wholly plausible – considering the time crunch, the desperation is precisely how many people would react in Drew’s position while trying to avoid the physical toll it takes to avoid the bends.
Concerning May, there’s the brief flashback throughline the film exhibits that she has to battle as she goes in and out of consciousness. Depending on how you view this, the backstory may hint at parental strife when the sisters were younger, but it might be enough or too little. It exists to have something May can battle through and eventually explain a potential role reversal towards the film's end. There’s a particular scene in which Drew has to decide to try to flag down a distant ship. Sure, she could try to induce a hail mary and hope the people aboard see her, but that would waste precious minutes that her sister doesn’t have. With how frantic both things on the barren surface and many leagues under the sea are, The Dive could have done without the almost dreamy callbacks to what it was trying to tease out at the beginning of the film.
At its base, The Dive is a relatively quick hit thriller that conjures enough scenes in its landscape to make you feel its urgent and muffled calls to action. The commitment to that feels thrilling, while the attempts to color in the lines with more character depth can be a distraction.