The Reef is a tight little horror film about sharks based on true events.
I'm not sure if you read my little gripe about shark movies right here, but I was basically going on and on about how there aren't any great horror films about sharks other than the classic Jaws. While I'm still maintaining that stance, The Reef offers alot of great stuff that makes the film work much better than previous entries into the sub genre.
The premise of the film involves a bunch of friends getting together for a little boat trip off the coast of Australia. The group includes Luke, a charismatic boat sitter played by Damian Walshe-Howling who is a pretty decent character actor and does a fine job making the role memorable. In fact, most of the characters are pretty memorable which helps in a film about a shark hunting humans...and what a persistent shark this guy is.
Playing Luke's kinda quasi ex-girlfriend in limbo is the lovely Zoe Naylor. She plays the tough, indecisive Kate...a worthy horror movie heroine with her fair share of delicate femininity that allows Luke enough room to ultimately play the male hero. Trust me when I tell you that if I were ever stuck in the middle of the goddamn ocean...Luke would be the man I would trust with my life. He's that all around quick thinking tough guy that knows what to do in any situation. Or at least more so than any of the other male characters in the film...like both Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith) and Kate's brother, Matt (Gyton Grantley) who, incidentally, makes the funniest "holy shit I'm gonna fuckin' die" noises once the great white shark appears. Rounding out the cast is Matt's fiancee, Suzie, played by the also lovely Adrienne Pickering who some might remember from the terrible film Shutter.
So, our great-looking characters all climb into a boat that Luke is taking care of and set sail for the open ocean in search of good times. They pretty much succeed up until the boat hits a big underwater rock and capsizes in the early hours of the morning. Thus leaving our crew stranded in the middle of the ocean with very little options. With no land in site, our hero Luke suggests swimming north until they hit some kind of island somewhere. I'm sad to say that I probably would've just stayed with the capsized boat like Warren does and wouldn't have swam out into the darkness of the ocean. But, that's probably because I'm a bit of a pussy when confronted with a predicament like our Australian friends in the film. However, Luke, Kate, Matt and Suzie all decide to swim for it...and this is where the fun begins.
Writer/Director Andrew Traucki, who coincidentally helmed the also "based on true events" horror/thriller Black Water involving a huge Australian crocodile trying to eat some vacationers, does an expert job ratcheting the suspense and tension in this shark story. He mines the scary atmosphere from the shots where you can't see a damn thing in the blackness of the water. During the shark scenes, Luke straps on his underwater goggles and peeks underneath the surface of the water to try to locate the shark and it is here where the terror exists...in the nothingness of the ocean.
Adding to the tension is the fact that you actually genuinely care about these characters which sets the film apart from comparing it to the other "stranded in shark infested waters" film, Open Water. I couldn't wait until that irritating couple turned into shark food. The Reef does a fine job of introducing its likeable characters and dropping them into a horrific situation that usually never ends well.
The Reef is head and dorsal fin above its inferior counterparts in terms of film quality and acting. The only issues I really had was the lack of shark inflicted gore and the redundance of the shark attack scenes. The attacks are usually limited to visible blood in the water and never really make you flinch...which would've really sold the mood that the film does a great job of building. Also the action never really strays from...oh my God a fuckin' shark...queue shark footage....shark eats human...continue swimming....repeat. I'm not sure if this was due to Traucki's restraint or budget limits...but, it would've really elevated the film to greatness if we got to see a frenzy of gore in a few different ways. Now, I know that there's not much to do in films like this...but, maybe you film a sequence from the shot of the victim as the shark pulls him/her underwater and you follow the victim's facial expression as he/she dies in gruesome fear.
Aside from the repitition and lack of grue, The Reef is worth your time. It will make you think twice about going sailing off the coast of Australia...or setting foot into the ocean...hell, I might not go to anymore fuckin' water parks after this film. It's a good little film that breathes life into the shark film and shows what you can do with good character sensibilities and a great understanding of tension.
Thanks for reading,