Written and directed by Andrew Traucki
Distributed by Image Entertainment
With the onslaught of silly ‘nature run amok’ shark-related flicks that have been released over the last few years (Sharktopus, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and Dinoshark just to name a select few), The Reef was for this writer a welcome breath of fresh air and brought the bite back (forgive the pun) to the shark sub-genre of horror.
In The Reef we are introduced to a group of friends that set off to sail along the Australian coast for a relaxing vacation excursion. However, tragedy strikes as their boat hits part of a reef and very quickly begins capsizing. Now the five travelers must make the ultimate decision: stay on a sinking ship and most likely die or try to swim ten miles in shark-infested waters to reach a stretch of land they hope actually exists. It’s literally a no-win situation for everyone involved, and ultimately four of the friends (Walshe-Howling, Grantley, Pickering and Naylor) set off for land while the ship’s sailor Warren (Darcy-Smith) knows it’s a losing battle either way and chooses to stay behind and go down with the ship instead of gambling against the odds of swimming for safety, accompanied by the remaining member of the group (“I know what’s in these waters,” he declares.)
Once the foursome enter the water, it’s a game of cat and mouse as there’s a shark in the area that has set his sights on the group treading their way through his environment, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts picking them off one by one. And while the premise itself sounds pretty basic (and it is), it’s how filmmaker Traucki delivers a solid character study as well as a killer creature feature seamlessly that makes The Reef far better than any of the other silly shark movies that have come out in the last several years. It’s a simple but effective exploration of human nature when facing insurmountable odds that also calls on viewers to look inside themselves to see what they would do if they were faced with the same decision.
There are bound to be a lot of comparisons of The Reef to Open Water, but honestly, other than the fact they are both set in the water and feature sharks, there are really no other similarities going on. The Reef is a stronger film than the one it’s being compared to because Traucki manages to keep the tension running throughout the film’s 94-minute runtime even before the shark ever shows up to make dinner out of the cast.
It also doesn’t hurt that Traucki and his crew went the extra mile for The Reef and not only filmed everything on the actual Australian reef but, seeing the need for authenticity in the project, went off and filmed wild sharks swimming around by use of a shark cage, which pays off big time. There’s something unsettling about these majestic creatures as it is, but when you’re seeing a real-life shark circling our protagonists, it elevates the story and the tension to an entirely new level.
The only downside to The Reef is that the film’s conclusion feels incredibly rushed- almost like Traucki wasn’t sure how to end the film so chose a very abrupt ending, which is a bit jarring considering how well-paced the rest of the film is. But despite the last ten minutes being a bit of a letdown, the journey up until that point is still well worth it. The story is tight, the performances are strong and the cinematography is breathtaking; and The Reef proves that there’s still a lot left to fear whenever you go into the water.
In terms of bonus features, I was saddened to see that the US release features the same bonus materials as the UK home release (see more here). And while the “making-of” documentary on The Reef is pretty engrossing, it would have been nice to see something more like an entire feature about the process of shooting the sharks in the wild that was presented separately from the overall behind-the-scenes featurette. But for those of you who are just as fascinated as I am about what goes into making movies in a natural environment, the doc is definitely worth a watch as is.
4 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5