The Reef (2010)
By: Devon B. on March 21, 2011  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share
Poster Art
Director: Andrew Traucki
Starring: Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering, Zoe Naylor, Kieran Darcy-Smith
Screenplay: Andrew Traucki
Country: Australia
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In July 1983 three people were aboard the New Venture when the boat was struck by a large wave and sunk. The three made a primitive raft with a few bits of material they had salvaged and started slowly making their way back to Lodestone reef. About five kilometres from the reef, the trio found themselves in grave danger when a large tiger shark appeared. The people strove to make it to land before being eaten. Whether they were followed by one shark or encountered multiple sharks is uncertain. I haven't gone into great detail recapping the above story as it would potentially spoil a few crucial moments in The Reef, a film that is based on these events.

The Reef is the follow up movie from Andrew Traucki, whose debut film Black Water is the scariest Australian horror film of all time if you don't count Babe. Clearly interested in the terror generated from knowing something big wants to eat you but not knowing exactly where it is, Traucki once again leads the viewer into a world of watery danger.

Four friends and one crewman are aboard a yacht that's hull is breached. The most experienced seamen among them advises that the boat will sink and that their only hope of survival is to swim more than 10 miles back to an island they had visited. The crewman says he won't do it because he knows what's in the water. The other four scrape together some supplies and some rudimentary flotation gear and set out on their long, wet journey. Luckily they found some Nobby's nuts to nibble, but less luckily, they aren't the only thing in the ocean that's found some food. The group are still a long way from land when they realise they're at the mercy of a large white pointer...

There were a few comparisons that sprang immediately to mind when I heard about The Reef. The first was Jaws 2, which also prominently featured people whose boats were wrecked trying to reach land before a great white chewed them up. While there are certain elements that must be present in any shark movie: a shark, water and people in the water, these similar elements are as close to Jaws 2 as The Reef gets. Jaws 2 really just has a frantic burst of excitement as the people hit the water then desperately swim for nearby land. The Reef is far more serious in tone. The film is nerve-wracking from the moment the people get in the water and the tension just continues to build, masterfully ramping up to the finale. The next film I thought of was Traucki's own Black Water, which was also a psychological man versus nature film, but The Reef is based around a slightly different situation. Whereas Black Water was about people who were relatively safe but needed to escape from a dangerous circumstance, for most of The Reef the characters are in immediate jeopardy. This is a different mindset and the mental pressures are even more pronounced, which makes the The Reef differ enough from Black Water that it doesn't feel like Traucki's just on cruise control. Lastly, the most obvious comparison to The Reef was Open Water. I really didn't think The Reef was going to overcome the similarities on this front, especially since I viewed Black Water as an improved version of Open Water's themes and ideas. However, The Reef surprised me here and did feel like a very different movie about people stuck in the ocean. It's still a very psychologically charged movie that relies heavily on character interaction, but the threat in Open Water is of a different kind. While the couple in Ocean Water are afraid of sharks, most of the time the real issue is just that they're lost. In The Reef, the sharks are the danger the whole time. I certainly heard people complaining that Open Water was a tease since the sharks really don't do much, and I doubt anyone would leave The Reef feeling the same way.

Not that the sharks are on screen that much, but they deliver some fantastically exciting moments when they are. Traucki has once again opted to use real animals instead of CG, and the film benefits immensely from the use of real white pointers. Traucki is extremely good at mixing the footage of his cast with that of the sharks, so it often feels like the cast are actually in the water with a great white. The Reef also wisely opts away from the shark being demonised, showcasing sharks as big hungry fish. Even if the viewer interprets the story as a single shark repeatedly attacking the people (which I didn't because it looked like at least two different white pointers) it's clearly just an animal following a new food source. This more believable shark behaviour sets the movie apart from almost every other shark film, and seeing the people in The Reef being circled by a shark biding its time is far more realistic and unsettling than anything shown in any previous shark attack movie.

As much as I thrilled at seeing a white pointer movie on the big screen, I will admit that The Reef isn't a perfect film. The lead doesn't always make intelligent, or even plausible, decisions and due to some cliché characterisation the supporting characters end up more interesting than the leads. The film also has moments where the framing is incredibly tight, to the point that it looked like it was cropped to the widescreen ratio. However, these qualms are all minor, especially if you're after a top notch shark movie.

Although The Reef may not be as original as Black Water, which was the first realistic croc film, it takes its various influences, including the true story, and melds them into an engaging thriller where the viewer can't help but sympathise with the protagonists. The performances are all very solid, further enabling the viewer to believe the four are real people in real trouble. The film also has several little touches, like the couple visiting from the UK being pastier than their Australian counterparts or an eerie early shot of fish fleeing from an unseen predator, that embellish the realism and make the film all the more gripping. The Reef is undeniably the best shark movie since Jaws, and is an extremely effective genre film. The well-captured vastness of the ocean and the size of the sharks also make this one to see in the cinema.

Croc movie, shark movie...what can Traucki possibly do next? Given that he seems to specialise in movies that I'll love, I'm hoping it'll be something about a polar bear.
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