Today: February 24, 2024

The Reef

Take the plunge into a truly terrifying shark thriller, which sinks its teeth and never lets go.

Take the plunge into a truly terrifying shark thriller, which sinks its teeth and never lets go.

Shark films rely heavily on one very simple premise, that we, as humans, have a primeval fear of the deep. The darkness below, that point where water turns to black, is where The Reef infuses your most terrifying thoughts into reality. Like Spielberg’s classic Jaws (1975), The Reef drags you under, kicking and screaming, in delightful terror.

When five Australian friends, Matt (Grantley), Luke (Walshe-Howling),
Kate (Naylor), Suzie (Pickering) and experienced fisherman Warren
(Darcy-Smith) set out on a sailing trip, their only worry is romantic
tension. However, after their boat capsizes they are left miles from the
mainland in dangerous waters. Taking the lead, Luke decides they must
swim to the nearest island in order to survive. Warren refuses to go,
believing the shark-infested waters are too dangerous. As the rest set
out they soon realise he may have been right.

The words “based on true events” at the start of a film have the
ability to make everything that follows much more harrowing than
straight up fiction. In this case they will convince you to never dip a
toe in the big blue ever again. From an early snorkelling scene,
director Traucki, who has dabbled in a similar genre with crocodile film
Black Water (2007), utilises the fear of the ocean to wonderful effect.
Every time the camera dips beneath the surface there is a sense of foreboding that rises from the bottomless abyss.

As the characters set out on their journey, dwarfed by the vast
expanse of the ocean around them, the camera remains at their eye level,
creating an intimacy imperative to the tension building exercise. It
also means we only ever view what the characters see. We become integrated into this band of friends stranded in a desperate situation and infused with spine chilling fear.
The Reef is reminiscent of Open Water (2003) in the way it uses the
situation and people to draw you in. Where it bests that film is in
taking the concept to all new heights of paralysing apprehension.

The Great White shark here is real, a true predator in every sense.
There are no rubber fish, no dodgy special effects, just brilliant
direction and editing to create the sense that these people are in the
water with a very real killer.
In fact for the most part it is hard
to believe there are not a few members of the Australian acting
community missing limbs such is their proximity to the shark.

It feels, at times, that Traucki is playing with us. As we’re tight
in on the characters one of them sees something in the distance and yet
we see nothing, until Luke, the only one with a snorkelling mask, dips
his head beneath the water to reveal the beast methodically mapping
their every move, before disappearing into the murky distance. Like
Spielberg, Traucki makes the most of what he has at his disposal. His
use of music at just the right moment is akin to John Williams’
brilliant theme yet subtler in the way it nestles below the surface
slowly fuelling dread.

The early character development makes for a refreshing look at normal people. There
are no ‘obviously going to die’ characters, because they are painted as
real rather than stereotypes, allowing us to invest in them on a
personal level
. Furthermore, when the drama begins to unfold we have no idea who will be the appetiser, main course or dessert.

The performances across the board are solid. The cast, all of whom
have forged out successful careers in Australian films and soaps, are
key to projecting the necessary levels of panic. Indeed the acting makes
for infectious fear. In particular Zoe Naylor as Kate finds a balance
between shear horror in her eyes, yet a calm exterior making her all the
more believable. As land draws agonisingly close it is her ever-darting
gaze that makes you know danger has never been so close at hand.

Refreshingly subtle yet utterly petrifying, The Reef is a rare treat
in monster films. It never panders to the obvious shocks but manages to
have you cowering on the edge of your seat. After this you’ll have to
take up sky-diving and fire-juggling because swimming is now off the
agenda. The closing information, the bookend to ‘based on true events’,
is nothing short of a paralysing truth.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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