The Hughes Verdict
“Packs more of a bite than any of the later Jaws sequels!”
Stop me if you heard this before! Humans lost at sea, being targeted by a man eating Shark. Yes its Open Water all over again but before you all run to see what is on Sky Atlantic stop for a sec, read on and like if you go down to the woods today, you may get a little surprise!
I have to be honest with you, Open Water did not entice me as much has it should have. I found large parts of that movie quite a stretch and rather dull, and the truth of it, if I wanted to to get excited and see a woman’s head bopping up and down for half hour while being filmed in camcorder style then I would just ask DJ for his copy of One Night In Paris, so its safe to say that I was quite not looking forward to another trip of the watery kind.
The Reef is nothing like Open Water…….ok, that is a bit of a lie, the whole structure is virtually the same, but The Reef succeeds in some wonderful high tension moments that makes a mockery of the quiet restrain that Open displayed. Is it better? well in my opinion yes, only because I found myself more gripped by the peril these poor folk were in, but the trouble is and one that many will find, Open Water haunts every frame of this picture so for all those looking for something fresh and original may need to look elsewhere.
Which is shame if you do because this shark bait packs more of a bite than any of the later Jaws sequels, and most of that credit must go towards writer and director Andrew Traucki who once again sees his new “nature attack” horror being overshadowed by another film. His 2007 crocodile flick Black Water was a solid effort, blown away by the much superior Rogue, so its unlucky for him that people may shun this effort simply because of the Open Water comparisons. Traucki has learnt a lot from his previous film, here he manages to muster every ounce of tension from the small tight concept, something that his last crocodile film failed to do so on occasions. Its to my utter admiration that The Reef gets the viewer all sweaty by having set pieces that grips when the shark is not around. Its why The Reef despite low on originality, is such a surprise when it comes to barn storming set pieces that delight and thrill.
Before we get to the terror though we get the usual build up. Luke (Damian Walshe Howling) and sailing partner Warren (Kieran Darcy Smith) are due to deliver a yacht and have invited three friends to share the journey. Luke’s old friend Matt (Gyton Grantley) and girlfriend Suzie (Adrienne Pickering) and Matt’s sister Kate (Zoe Naylor) who has some romantic ties with Luke. This sub plot is what stretches the opening half and is just an excuse to add more emotion to the storyline when its clearly not needed, I mean they are getting attacked by a shark, who cares if they slept together.
Anyway, they sail off, explore the beautiful reef and everything is going swimmingly until their Yacht suddenly gets tipped upside down. Its a bolt of the blue but well played out and despite the clumsily love arc, I have to admit that each character is very likeable, a strong point for any film to have that wants the viewer to sympathise with their ordeal. With the Yacht the wrong way round and drifting off course, the choice is either stay where food and water is bare and hope for rescue, or swim out to what Luke’s believes is a island nearby. Of course they decide to swim, which proves to be fatal when a fifth member decides to join their group, and this one is rather hungry.
The best part of the movie and the one which had me hooked is how much energy Traucki gets out of the upside down boat sequence. When Luke swims underneath to pick up items to help them survive, the constant banging he can hear from them above that signals there is something in the water, brings a tremendous amount of tension that will thrill even the die hard Jaws fanatic. His head above the water, scanning the rooms of the yacht in case a fin pops out is incredible. Traucki gets so much out of the tight surroundings that it makes the moment LL Cool J enter the water in Deep Blue Sea a joke onto itself. The fact that Luke has to go underneath the boat twice makes The Reef an unbearable watch at times, at its crazy that the best moments of this shark flick does not include the creature itself.
Of course as soon the gang swim off into the deep ocean then it all becomes very Open Water, but here there is a lack of patience to bring the terror to the group. Its not long until the shark is spotted in the distance and as they are too far to go back to their boat, it really is the final push of the film to get you hooked. If by now you are bored at what seems a seen it all before concept, then The Reef is not for you. By luck I was fully sucked into this nightmare journey and the film does not hold back when it comes to the shark attacking.
What I loved and one of the reasons why The Reef works so well is that deep down it knows its roots are borrowed from other films but also ignores the genre rules. There are no Jaws style beats of music to suggest danger, no fin rising out of the sea and heading towards them, this shark is what it is supposed to be, a silent assassin who wants his dinner, so when the white shark attacks we the viewer like the group do not know when and pushes the film further up in the tension stakes. For a film so lacking in originality, its ridiculous that there is so much unpredictable outcomes, its like I was screaming “You not supposed to be this good!”
Using a real shark is also a positive, setting up a grim and realistic portrayal of what could happen if you are one of the unlucky ones stranded at sea. How they managed to create some shots is beyond me, but the film uses its tiny £3M budget to wonderful effect and it at times makes you wonder why so much is wasted on bigger films and their crap CGI effects.
Traucki does make some mistakes and things are not that perfect. The script at times is clumsy, there is one laughable moment when despite numerous shark attacks, one of them hears a noise behind their backs and they yell “what is that?” and I sat there thinking “where have you been for the last half hour love!” Also Traucki makes a huge mistake in not prolonging the night scene. After making wonderful use of the underneath the boat set piece, I was looking forward to when the sun set and the moon rise, fully expecting unbearable tension as noises could be heard but the group could not see. But sadly its a blink and miss it and I would have loved to have seen more use of the night time, especially as Traucki proves he can make a great gripping scene out of nothing.
Jaws is the best and worst thing that has happened to the genre. The 1975 classic as more chance of getting remade than another film ever beating it for style and quality, and while the Reef can only wish to have at least one ounce of its respect and love, I honestly do not know if I have seen a Shark film as good has The Reef ever since Brody stepped into the water with a gun and uttered the words “Smile you son of a bitch!”, and that is probably a shocking compliment to give to a film that as hit these shores as a straight to DVD!
OVERALL: A missing Night attack ruins what could have been a contender, but besides that flaw and a few others, The Reef is one of the finest shark attack films in years……a major surprise