A shipwreck leaves a small group of friends stranded deep off the coast of Australia, who struggles to find help…if the area’s sharks don’t find them first.
The film opens with a group of friends meeting up for a sailing adventure off the coast of Australia. The two lead characters and ex-lovers Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) and Kate (Zoe Naylor) are joined by couple Matt (Gryton Grantley) and Suzie (Adrienne Pickering) as well as the boat’s captain Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith). Warren takes the group to an island for a brief snorkeling excursion, where we learn that Luke and Kate are still at odds since their breakup, but may also still be harboring feelings for each other.
As they head back to the main vessel, the smaller emergency boat is accidentally destroyed on a reef. This becomes a major issue once their sailboat’s hull is breached by an underwater rock and slowly begins to sink deep in the ocean with no land in sight. They are all able to get on top of the capsized boat, where they weigh the minimal options in their desperate situation. Luke convinces all but Warren to swim towards Turtle Island, since the boat will not remain afloat for much longer and the ocean's current is pulling them further from land as each second passes. Kate needs some convincing, but finally agrees to join the others. However, Warren decides that he would rather wait for help then get in the water, since he knows the dangers of the deep awaiting them all.
Once the group gets out of sight from Warren’s craft, the film becomes one major pressure cooker that does not ease up for a millisecond. The audience knows that great white sharks are coming, so the anticipation is nerve-racking well before any beastie makes its on screen appearance. Once the shark finally does show up for the party, it is enough to send shivers down your spine.
Director Andrew Traucki maintains the tension by keeping the camera angle at ocean level, making the audience feel that they are in the water with the characters. He also creates an unbelievable amount of terror by implementing Luke’s snorkeling mask as our underwater view. Whenever there is a moment when the group feels they are in trouble, Luke uses his mask to look under the waves, sometimes showing nothing but the vast ocean and sometimes the dangers in their presence. This goes on for the final 70-75 minutes, which feels like 70 hours due to the intensity of their peril.
At first glance, The Reef easily appears to be an Open Water knock-off, and rightfully so because their premises are extremely similar. But the film itself is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. In fact, this is how Open Water should have been done. Forget the “found footage” like format of Open Water. Traucki uses a mood-setting soundtrack, music stings and jump scares for his film. Another major improvement for The Reef is the incredible acting from all participants.
The only real drawback to the film is the attachment, or lack thereof, to the characters. All of them are somewhat likeable, but you really only really pull for a couple of them. It is also extremely apparent from the start just who the potential survivors are going to be. As entertaining as The Reef is from a viewer's standpoint, that notion is easily dismissed without any detraction from the film, especially with its “sitting on the edge of your seat” final act.
Here is hoping for a release in the States as it will be amazing to see on the big screen. And the sooner, the better. Throw the Jaws and Open Water comparisons out and just enjoy the wild ride. Of course it is not better than Jaws, and nothing will probably ever be, but it is one of the best shark films to come along since Deep Blue Sea. The use of a real great white shark, with a little bit of special effects coming into play, is enough to make that fact evident.
Traucki made a real winner here for both shark film enthusiasts and horror fans alike, so rack a point on the board for Australian cinema.
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Geof is a boy genius who launched this site all the way back in 2009. When he is not tasting new beer or reviewing movies, he's busy playing video games or developing a master plan in his fortress of solitude, The Man-Cave. If he seems a little excitable in his posts, keep in mind that he is probably being fueled by yet another raging Dr. Pepper buzz. Also a contributor at the Italian Film Review.