Get ready to have a whole new reason to stay out of the ocean. The Reef is the latest based on true life, man against nature tale from Black Water director Andrew Traucki, and like that film it’s a skillfully told tale that ratchets up the tension to breaking point.
The film starts with brother and sister; Matt and Suzie, and Matt’s girlfriend Kate welcoming their friend Luke through airport arrivals from London. There is an unspoken tension between Luke and Suzie and the possible beginnings of a love affair, but their lives and careers have always got in the way despite them being crazy about each other. We learn this through well played scenes in the first act, where the characters come across as real people rather than tanned hot bodies waiting to die. They decide to go on a boat trip and take in some snorkeling off the coast of an island with Matt’s work friend Warren. Everything is going well until suddenly the boat strikes some coral during low tide and a hole is ripped through the hull. The boat starts to sink and the five of them narrowly escape with their lives. Taking refuge on top of the capsized boat, they weigh up their options. Realizing that they will starve, dehydrate and die within days; Matt, Luke, Kate and Suzie decide to swim in the direction that they assume land is in. Not being a strong swimmer and seeing it as his best chance, Warren decides to stay with the boat and await rescue. Out in the middle of the ocean with nothing for miles in any direction, the swimmers are stalked by something beneath the waves, something toys with them waiting for its moment to strike….a great white shark.
As well as Black Water, The Reef is reminiscent of Adam Green’s Frozen in the way that the characters are well developed before the tragedy unfolds and is obviously like Open Water in terms of setting, yet is superior to that film. Traucki builds the tension masterfully here, the situation is hopeless and the outcome inevitable but the actors do such a good job of portraying desperation and the yearning to survive that you are invested as soon as the fateful decision is made to swim for it. After all once you know there is a fourteen foot killer shark nearby stalking you, with no land and no boat what do you have to defend yourself with? The tension builds with the sightings of fins or splashes in the water nearby followed by one of the ladies freaking out and Luke looking beneath the surface through diving goggles. This seems to happen many many times and all the time we see from Luke’s POV that there is nothing but murky blue sea in each direction. These scenes are gut wrenching because you keep suspecting to see something jump out at you or some other kind of shock but it never comes. When it does happen, it’s done so well and so realistically instead of catering to the horror crowd for a cheap jump scares. Luke looks below the water a final time, and in the distance emerges the grey outline of a huge shark.
Apart from one obviously computer generated shot of a shark, it looks as though all shark footage is actually real. Obviously the actors were not there in the water with a great white so it is a testament to clever editing and direction that the whole thing comes off with no obvious green screen or matte lines and is brilliantly done. When the attacks finally come, there is no meaty gore, instead we get a red patch in the sea and a line of dialogue like “My leg is gone“. Somehow this is worse than if they were to go into graphic details with the attacks and is a sign of confidence in the power of the story and the setting, the atmosphere of impending doom is enough. For fans of suspense and true life horror I can’t recommend The Reef enough. It’s a master class in tension building and making the most of what you have with a small budget that Spielberg would be proud of. Why it skipped cinemas is baffling…
DVD Extras: Shooting with Sharks - Making Of, Trailer.