Written by: Andrew Traucki and James Vernon
Directed by: Andrew Traucki
Starring: Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, and Adrienne Pickering
Reviewed by: Brett G.
Pray you drown first.
It looks like shark movies might be experiencing a bit of a renaissance, which hopefully means theyíll suck a whole lot less than they have for much of their existence. The Reef is one of three shark films to be released this year (Shark Night 3D and Bait 3D are the others, and thatís not even counting the Corman/SyFy variations on the theme), and it comes to us from Australia, a country whose waters are full of great white sharks. I donít know how many favors The Reef is going to do for the tourism industry by claiming to be based upon true events, but it makes for a really solid shark movie, which the world could use more of.
A group of friends enlist the help of a sailor (Kieran Darcy-Smith) to take them out in the middle of the ocean to explore a coral reef. They actually make it there fine and even take time to chill on an island; however, on the way back in, they scrape against a coral reef, which destroys their hull and capsizes their boat. This leaves them with a tough decision: do they stay on top of the overturned (and sinking) vessel and wait for help, or do they brave the shark-infested waters and try to swim back to the island?
Open Water seems to be an obvious influence on The Reef, as itís in pretty much the same mode as that film. Relying primarily on atmosphere, tension, and dread, it manages to be quite an intense, intimate suspense story. Like Open Water, the immensity and isolation of the ocean plays a key role; youíll go nearly 40 minutes before you see so much as a shark fin. However, by that point, youíre drawn in by the complete hopelessness of the situation--thereís really nothing these characters can do to save themselves, as theyíre at the complete mercy of the elements. Director Traucki manages some interesting shots to ramp up the suspense; we often see the action from the point of view of the characters, so weíre almost constantly peeking up over the rolling water to see what could be off in the distance.
Sharks are out there of course; well, one shark to be specific, and itís a huge great white that begins stalking the cast. Itís a ďrealĒ one too--no CGI or animatronics here (though I think some of the attacks might have been touched up with CGI). There were many moments that left me marveling and wondering just how they pulled it off because the sense of peril seemed so real; if I didnít know any better, I would guess they actually just dropped these actors into the middle of the ocean. The filmís editing creates the illusion beautifully, and the actual attacks are rather disturbing by also packing a realistic punch that highlights the terrifying efficiency of a great white shark.
If thereís a criticism to make against The Reef, itís that itís just a little bit too familiar in the wake of Open Water. Itís also very predictable because the film makes it clear early on who the main characters are, so you know theyíll be the last ones standing (er, swimming). But the performances are great from all involved; in a film like this where so much is unseen, you need the cast to basically lose their minds to sell how harrowing it all is. They succeed there, and though they hit the usual beats where they begin to bicker at each other, they remain likeable enough. It doesnít really strive to be much of a character study anyway--this is more of a lean thriller that comes and goes with the speed of a shark attack.
That means itíll probably evaporate from your brain within a few hours, but Iíll still take a dozen movies like The Reef over a majority of the really poor films this sub-genre has spit out. It does nothing egregiously wrong, and it does a lot of things well, which is refreshing. The Reef had a theatrical release in its home country last year, and itís just now coming to home video in North America courtesy of Image Entertainment. Youíve got two options with DVD and Blu-ray, and I recommend the latter because the HD transfer really shows off the filmís gorgeous photography (these waters would be quite a paradise if they werenít infested with man-eating sharks). The lossless audio is just as well done, as it sounds like youíre right in the middle of the ocean with the characters. The lone special feature is a making-of piece entitled ďShooting with Sharks,Ē and thereís a trailer too. Though I canít stress enough how much of a surprise this one is, Iím not sure it warrants a purchase; itís definitely one to bump up to the top of your rental queue, though. Rent it!
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