The Reef

The Reef


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Thirty-five years and a bucketful of shark movies have passed since Jaws, but director Andrew Traucki hasn't let that scare him away from diving into the shark attack genre. The result manages to be a lean, no-nonsense and very effective Australian thriller that relies on the good old-fashioned tricks of inferred menace, convincing characters and carefully-built tension rather than bells and whistles. The concept is straightforward: take five different people, put them in danger, and let the audiences see what happens when there are no heroes and no one is bullet-proof.

The story sees five Australian friends reunite for a boating and snorkelling yacht trip far from shore and out near the Barrier Reef cluster. The beating sun, pretty beaches and crystal clear water are almost enough to distract the group from the various arguments and sexual tensions that bubble between them. But there turns out to be little time for any of that as before long (actually within about 10 minutes of the film starting) a lower-than-expected tide has left their boat's hull exposed to the rocky sea bed.

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With the bottom torn out of their boat and little food or supplies, there are only two horrifying choices: to stay put on the upturned boat and risk sinking or being carried further from shore, or to swim for an island somewhere beyond the horizon. But they are not alone, and before long a fin is circling. When the shark inevitably comes it is like something from the dark heart of Australia - primal and untamed like much of the vast country itself appears at times. The ocean, which earlier appeared so crystal blue as if taken from footage from a tourism commercial for Australia, becomes a gloomy cage hiding a threat that could strike at any moment.

Whereas the audience and characters were surface dwellers in the sun in the first quarter of an hour, the camera spends more and more time under the surface as the film progresses and the atmosphere changes. Given the spate of recent natural disasters in Australia, falling victim to the forces of nature Down Under seems less like an implausible scenario than audiences might've thought. Facing the danger are a group of very ordinary characters of whom we know virtually nothing, few of which are experienced on the ocean (and are therefore unreliable and unpredictable in this kind of crisis, which of course is part of the thrill).

Though the concept and some of the shocks are familiar and have been seen in recently in films like Open Water, the director manages to craft some distinctive and atmospheric set pieces. In one particularly taught scene one of the group makes repeated dives to search around in the upturned boat's claustrophobic and pitch black submerged cabin, but is stopped short when he hears muffled thumping coming through the wood of the hull. Is it his friends sitting on the hull above, or something else?

Effective camera work and use of shark footage, sharp editing and believable turns from the cast combine with the final ingredient - the audiences imaginations - to create an unfussy genre thriller that does the job well.

Reviewed on: 13 May 2011
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A snorkling trip goes badly wrong for a group of pals.
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Director: Andrew Traucki

Writer: Andrew Traucki, James M. Vernon

Starring: Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering, Zoe Naylor, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Mark Simpson

Year: 2010

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Australia


Australia 2011

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Open Water