The Reef

Director: Andrew Traucki
Starring: Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley and Adrienne Pickering
Distributor: Independent
Runtime: 88 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Violence and coarse language

Reefs, dangers and sharks.

Andrew Trauick wrote and directed a small-budget crocodile thriller, Black Water. Modest, but quite effective in its way. The same can be said for The Reef.

The story is quite straightforward (and resembles an American film, Open Water). A group begin a voyage off the Australian coast to deliver a boat. They spend a day on a reef. Then the bottom of the boat encounters something jagged and capsizes. What are they to do, sink or swim? Most swim, one stays with the boat.

The main part of the film is the group swimming towards the reef, finding that they are being pursued by a shark.

The advantage of the film is the stronger than usual characterisations of the principal characters. We get to know them. They are quite ordinary people except for the skipper, Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) who seems a decent chap but who is able to exercise leadership in decision-making and in encouraging morale. Needless to say, not everyone survives.

Another advantage of the film is the photography, much of it at ocean surface level, emphasising the vastness of the empty sea. There is also quite a deal of effective underwater photography, initially of the beauty of the reef, but then the focus on the shark and Luke’s need to continually look under water to assess the dangers. Filming was done off the Queensland coast at Hervey Bay and Bowen, with some Port Lincoln locations and quite an amount of circling shark footage.

Jaws has a lot to answer for! Audiences inevitably tend to move fairly quickly into apprehension mode when we see that ocean surface, when we see legs underwater, when the music suggests a shark is lurking. This works well here.

The film is not visually gory when the shark does attack. Rather, it relies on moods and fear, building up the suspense, understanding and sharing the terror of the individuals under threat. It is really scarier than any contrived slasher terror film because, while we might never be in such a situation ourselves, we know that it is more than possible for anyone. We identify with those in the situation, challenged as to whether we would stay with the boat or risk the seas to swim to safety and experience the unknown.

The Reef succeeds in what it set out to do.

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