Screen Australia. Director: Andrew Traucki.
Creature Feature Bleachers Award: Most Australian
Don’t waste your time on “The Reef,” a tedious Australian release that takes itself too seriously but doesn’t bring much new to the genre. Ideally, a sharksploitation film is either a well-crafted piece of entertainment (“Deep Blue Sea“) or a poorly thought-out train wreck of epic proportions (“Raging Sharks“). Sadly, “The Reef” is neither. By limiting itself to five uncompelling characters stranded in the middle of the ocean, “The Reef” presents a psychological thriller that is neither very psychological nor very thrilling. If anything, the film induces feelings of entrapment because the lack of new characters or settings means you are literally stuck watching people you don’t care about float in the water for hours. My advice is to save yourself the grief and just skip this one.
Boater Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) invites his semi-girlfriend Kate (Zoe Naylor), her brother Matt (Gyton Grantley) and Matt’s girlfriend Suzie (Adrienne Pickering) to join him on a run to a coral reef. Luke and Kate have been taking a break from their relationship for a while, so spending time together on the trip gives them the opportunity to try to figure things out. Fortunately for viewers, the boat quickly hits the reef and capsizes. Crewman Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith) insists on remaining with the boat, which he thinks will be the safest decision. Recognizing that the chances of being found are small, the other four decide to swim for Turtle Island while they still have the strength. Along the way, sharks begin a vicious attack.
“The Reef” bears many striking similarities to “Open Water,” another “based on a true story” movie about ordinary people stranded in shark-infested waters. In the case of “Open Water,” however, the film’s low budget greatly enhances its believability. The two no-name actors become their characters, and their reaction to the rapidly deteriorating situation feels very realistic. “The Reef,” on the other hand, suffers from a sort of “Hollywood effect.” The characters are obviously just actors acting their hearts out, the pacing feels contrived, and the viewer ultimately knows darn well that he or she is watching a film. Whereas “Open Water” presents a “you are there” view of a believable worst-case-scenario, “The Reef” is just a movie.
Nonetheless, “The Reef” finally offers up the “AAAAAAHHHH A KILLER SHARK!!!! Wait, no, it’s just a dolphin” gag. As a fan of “The Simpsons,” I have fervently been awaiting an instance of the “killers of the sea/ clowns of the sea” mix-up. I’m frankly surprised that it’s taken more than 15 sharksploitation films to find it.
Another notable characteristic of “The Reef” is the incomprehensibility of its Australian accents. Sadly, the filmmakers failed to make any “shark/ shock” puns, but you may supply them on your own if you wish. Luke is nearly impossible to understand, so I had to watch the film with subtitles.
Unlike “Open Water,” in which the characters just float about aimlessly, “The Reef” focuses on the journey of people purposefully swimming toward a far-off island. This should make the film more interesting to watch since the characters are actually doing something, but the characters’ inactivity during the shark attacks easily compensates. Whenever a shark appears on the horizon, Luke heroically dons his goggles, drops below the waves, and bravely looks at the shark. What a hero! Only someone with Luke’s unique combination of nerve and skill could perform the vital task of looking at the shark. The others just whimper up on the surface, but Luke takes charge of the situation and looks at the shark! All would be lost if not for Luke’s valiant shark observation efforts!
Since this shark-looking routine occurs multiple times in the film, I think I am justified in asking: WHAT EXACTLY IS THIS SUPPOSED TO ACCOMPLISH??? Just because you can see the shark, doesn’t mean you can do anything about it. “Wait, guys, now that I can see the shark, I think we should change our strategy of trying to swim for the shark-free island!”
“The Reef” is available on Amazon.