Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Andrew Traucki
Starring Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering, Zoe Naylor
Distributed by Momentum Pictures
Seemingly finding his niche amidst the “nature gone amok” genre, Black Water director Andrew Traucki once again tackles water-borne toothy predators with The Reef, proving that a film dealing with some of our most primal fears doesn’t have to be needlessly convoluted or complex to bring the scares.
It’s a simple plot that has been seen repeatedly over the years: A group of friends (here, set against the phenomenally beautiful Australian coast) set off on a yachting trip only to find the boat entirely scuppered by a protruding reef. Forced to decide whether to wait for help that may never arrive or set off swimming towards what could be land in the distance, those that take to the sea soon discover that they’ve become the centre of attention for one very hungry shark.
Right off the bat, the cinematography of The Reef is, quite simply, stunning. Beautiful underwater photography captures brief diving sessions and gorgeous-looking shoals of fish with remarkable clarity, and the visual serenity above water in the early stages almost matches it. When it comes to the latter stages of the flick, it’s a boon to see that real shark footage has been cleverly, and expertly, edited to give the impression that the ruthless hunter is indeed circling his human prey.
This is also where the fear comes into play. Refusing to leap into human melodrama, Traucki’s characters are all instantly sympathetic and real. While we do have a mini love story going on between main players Pickering and Walsh-Howling, the script never shoots off the path and completely denies us any stereotypical “asshole” character that just begs to be killed off. Traucki wants you to care about these people and hope that they’ll make it to shore intact, and every member of the cast does their damndest to make sure that you do. A special mention has to be given to actor Gyton Grantley’s perfectly naturalistic performance. If you remember him from season one of the fantastic Aussie TV show Underbelly, you’ll be pleased to know that he’s just as good here.
So, we have likable, recognisable characters stranded in the water with a ravenous threat that feels very, very real. A perfect recipe for non-stop tension as fleeting visions of the shark circling his meal before seemingly disappearing serve to keep you on edge before the inevitable attacks occur… and when they do, they’re fast, vicious, and authentic. The first of our protagonists to bite the bullet does so in such a shockingly genuine manner (bolstered by, as mentioned, the great performances) that the hard-coded switch in all of our brain stems is flicked, and one solid mantra keeps repeating:
Get the fuck out of the water. Now.
If anything in particular actually lets The Reef down, it would have to be the rather abrupt and unsatisfying ending, which can be seen coming minutes before it actually does, and the way in which it completely abandons the one character that chooses to stay with the boat. A deeper look into that particular character’s own predicament would have proved an interesting and tense juxtaposition with that of those in the water, and ignoring it feels like a missed opportunity to escape the inherent limitations of the setting.
Foibles aside, The Reef is ultimately a successful survival tale and, dare I say it, the fright flick that 2003’s lackluster Open Water wishes it was.
Momentum’s DVD release of The Reef is visually solid, giving the scenic cinematography its due service. Sound is likewise treated well, with the sloshing water and tense score nicely engaging the rear soundstage to induce an immersive amount of depth. While there are very few notable problems with this home presentation, the lack of Momentum providing a Blu-ray release for the UK is disappointing; in high definition, portions of The Reef would look spectacular.
In terms of special features, we get the trailer for the film and a behind-the-scenes featurette entitled Shooting with Sharks. At approximately 20 minutes, this featurette packs in a surprising amount of on-set footage, cast and crew interviews, and a satisfying insight into the trials of making a film almost solely based in-water and, of course, editing the shark footage to create a consistent narrative. Not a bad little time waster at all.
3 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5