Director – Andrew Traucki
Cast – Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering, Zoe Naylor, Kieran Darcy-Smith
Release Year – 2011
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I love killer animal films, and while I had not seen a solid killer shark flick in a very long time I went into The Reef with moderately high hopes due to some positive reviews I read, but The Reef did not completely succeed in giving me what I wanted to see – a solid effort. While the story is a bland one that I found no problem with due to the potential it possessed, the execution never fully sold me to believe this a truly good horror film as the tension was hit and miss, making for another horror film whose true potential was/is never reached.
Five friends on a boat find themselves in a bind when their boat strikes an underwater object and capsizes along the Great Barrier Reef. Tough, life-saving decisions must be made in quick time, and the dilemma over whether to stay on the boat or swim to a nearby island leaves those swimming to the island in a mad dash for their lives when a great white shark begins devouring them one by one.
I read a remark somewhere about this flick being Open Water meets Jaws, and for the most part that was a dead-on way to describe this piece, however it was closer to Open Water than Jaws in its end result – not as good as it should have been. The story is a very simple one that pretty much plays off as I mentioned earlier, which made for much potential because its simplicity allows for the director to have much leeway and get very creative with how to execute things, and I applaud writer/director Andrew Traucki(Black Water) for not writing this film to be more than it needed to be, which was a horror/suspense flick about a shark eating survivors of a capsized boat. The character play was positive and heartbreaking at times as Traucki threw in plenty of emotional scenes for us to enjoy, and I loved that he held nothing back regarding his characters, who were seemingly slaughtered for our enjoyment, so long as you enjoy shocking scenes involving good people dying the deaths normally reserved for evildoers. It does take a while for things to get going, which some may find fault in as a pacing issue, but in a sense it allowed for the suspense to build in a drawn-out fashion, so I was not too troubled with it.
Traucki’s direction is what mostly left this film at a mediocre rating and not a positive one, with most of his execution woes coming in regards to the most important elements: horror and tension. The usage of the shark could have been better, and scarier, although I did enjoy the look of the shark and the fact that it was not some mediocre bull shark but in fact a solid Great White shark with an appetite for wayward humans. I never really felt any tension on my end as I watched our protagonists float in panic knowing that a killer shark was circling them beneath the water, which is a situation that I was supposed to definitely feel tension in, but it never happened. To make matters worse, the actual kills were so/so, with one of them being pretty awesome and somewhat gory, and the others being a bit lame. I did mention earlier that there was some fair shock value going on with the kills, but it mostly lied in who was killed and not how they were killed, but I will at least give Traucki some credit for not screwing up that important element. Now, I will say this: Traucki’s cinematography is amazing as he provides beautiful sets and excellent camerawork to keep this flick as visually appealing as possible, which also played into the look of the shark. The CGI for this low-budget piece was phenomenal as I was never really able to tell which scenes involved a fake shark and which involved a real shark, which I commend him for and find should be a staple for all killer animal films. Those of you who saw his debut film, Black Water, which is pretty much the same story but with crocodiles, will find that this film suffers the same issues as Black Water did, interestingly enough.
Overall, The Reef is an OK experience that had the potential for a great watch, but execution issues kept it from being a solid horror effort. The FX are outstanding and Traucki’s visuals sell the film fairly well, but the tension was never there and the horror never surfaced as well as it could have.