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Sitges 2016: “CAGE DIVE” (Film Review)

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CAGE DIVE kicked off the Midnight X-Treme selection here at Sitges. The world premiere was at 1 a.m., and it led a block of four films that ran until the early hours of morning. By the time you make it to that timeslot, you’ve likely already seen three or four other films that day. The audience might be jet-lagged, hungover, or drunk. I was existing somewhere between a few of those options, with no idea what to expect (I could assume a cage and possibly some diving), on my way to see CAGE DIVE.

It was in this exhausted state that I received the truncated synopsis from another attendee, “It’s like OPEN WATER, but found-footage,” which did not bode well. So this writer was genuinely surprised to find that not only is CAGE DIVE a great ride, it’s the perfect film to kick off a midnight movie marathon.

It follows a trio of friends from California who are assembling an audition tape to compete as a team on a reality TV show. Their goal is to travel to Australia and participate in a cage dive: being lowered into shark-infested water in the (relative) safety of a steel cage. They plan to chronicle their adventures the whole way, handheld video camera always running, to show that they have the teamwork, charisma, and adventurous personas needed to be reality television material. What the audience sees, however, is presented as a documentary of their ill-fated audition, assembled after the fact from interviews, news reels, and of course, footage recovered from a handheld video camera that was lost at sea.

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Multiple conceits within the format go a long way towards this writer’s enjoyment of the film. Styling it as a documentary aids the suspension of disbelief, which tends to be more difficult to maintain in a found-footage film than a traditional narrative. But most of all, the initial premise, that the group was filming an audition tape for a reality show, is the film’s most clever move. Now the characters have a reason to sit and talk directly to the camera, to tell us about themselves or their relationships to each other, and it feels believable, familiar. We’ve all seen shows like this, so it’s easy to invest in the characters and their dramas. As a love triangle manifests, we know a confrontation is inevitable.

When their boat capsizes and the trio of friends must play out their dramas while struggling to survive in shark-infested waters, we see the grimmest possible answer to the “What if?” posed by most reality television. The enjoyment of CAGE DIVE comes from that same terrible thing in our nature that led to Survivor garnering millions of viewers. We want to see the worst case scenario.

When you hear people are willingly lowering themselves into a cage in the ocean and baiting sharks to come over to it, you think about the myriad ways that can go wrong. CAGE DIVE explores that with the same compelling, trashy, never-stop-filming attitude that draws us into reality television. Through a combination of the intelligent format, convincing effects, and a series of fun set-pieces (each with a solid payoff), CAGE DIVE manages to elevate itself above the sum of its parts, and ends up being one of the best found-footage films of the year.

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About the author
Elijah Taylor
Elijah Taylor used to own a chain of video game stores in Denver, Colorado. Now he works with Laser Party, a poster printing collective, and travels the world, eating, fighting, and attending film festivals.
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