I have written in brief about this film before on the site. This review was intended to be the first in a series of monthly posts on Australian horror films. That didn’t work out for a number of reasons, so I thought I would share this full review here. Enjoy.
Us Australians, we know animals that can kill you. Last week, I found a deadly redback spider living above the desk I am writing at right now. We have crocodiles, box jellyfish, innumerable deadly species of snakes, spiders, even generally placid chaps such as octopus or even frickin shells come packing a deadly dose of venom in Australia. People have even been killed by native tourist magnets such as kangaroos and cassowaries. It’s not all bad though. This proliferation of murderous beasts means there is plenty of fodder for rad horror films.
If you ask an Australian which deadly local they fear the most, nine times out of ten, the answer will be sharks. All of the above mentioned animals are pretty easy to avoid really. However given the incredible quality of our beaches, we are lovers of swimming in the ocean. And once you are in the ocean, you are in a shark’s domain. Every year there are, I would guess, three to five instances of people getting taken whilst swimming or surfing on our beaches. So sharks scare us a lot. Which part of what makes The Reef (2010) so freaking successful as a horror film.
The masterstroke of The Reef is that rather than CGI, the film relies on genuine shark footage and some of the finest editing you are ever likely to see in a horror film to have you swearing off a dip in the ocean forever. There are a couple of special effects shots and they actually don’t work well at all. What does work well are the seamless shots of real sharks edited against the shots of the actors. Or occasionally the shots are composites of some description, where you will see an actor treading water, their arm of leg coming into the frame, as the giant shark approaches.
Like director Andrew Traucki’s first film Black Water, The Reef is (loosely) based on a true story. The film sees a boat capsize, leaving the five people on board to choose between swimming for a nearby island or taking their chances staying with the boat. In the end, four of them opt to swim for it. And then the shark shows up and delightful carnage ensues. There are some definite dramatic failings in this early section of the film. Some of the dialogue feels a little forced, as does a rekindled romance. Also, the fact they even end up in the predicament in the first place relies on some woefully inept sailing by supposed professionals. But once the shark shows up and that masterful editing and slick shooting starts flying about, you will forget all about the earlier dramatic flaws.
If you intend on watching the film, do your absolute best to do so in HD. The blu-ray copy I watched was almost popping off the screen it looked so sharp. The incredible blue of the vast ocean expanses are a stark contrast to the chilling goings on in the water. Along with the editing, another stylistic choice that ramps up the tension is the repeated use of underwater point of view shots. As the main character looks out, you can sense the audience straining to see in the blue murk for a glimpse of the massive shark that is stalking them.
Of course you cannot talk about a shark film without discussing Jaws (1975). The standard approach is to state how the film is no patch on Spielberg’s masterpiece or if you want to praise one element of the film in question, mention how it nears the brilliance of that aspect of Jaws. The Reef is nowhere near as good a film as Jaws, which is close to Spielberg’s finest film. But The Reef is scarier. This film will make you genuinely fearful about going in the ocean and it definitely had that effect on me the first time I watched it. If you haven’t seen it, get on it.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny