Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. By now you know that if I see a shark movie playing a film festival that I’m there, right?
For obvious reasons I have a big soft spot in my heart for sharksploitation films. It’s an odd subgenre fetish to have since there’s not very many good entries into that genre. There are for more good to great croc and gator movies than shark flicks, but if there’s a fin in the water I’ll be there.
I was incredibly disappointed with Open Water when I saw it. It took a great idea and did it so on the cheap with a cast of scumbags (not the actors, let me be clear on that… but the characters as written) that I never cared one bit for those people stuck in the water.
The Reef is a similar concept, but it’s done like a real movie with real production value and at least a stab at making some of the shark food sympathetic.
I knew the movie was on the right track early on when our group of would be sailors were stocking up and observe a wall of shark jaws, all caught in the same Australian waters these poor bastards were about to travel. It’s a nice ominous moment that might be a tad on the nose, but effective nonetheless.
This group is small. You have a brother, his girlfriend, the sister, the sister’s semi-ex boyfriend and a hired hand out sailing to a new spot, a beautiful tiny island out in the middle of nowhere. You get the feeling that the brother (Gyton Grantley) is trying to hook his sister (Zoe Naylor) back up with our main character (Damian Walshe-Howling) after we’re told they’re relationship has cooled.
Walshe-Howling is the able-bodied seaman, a man at home in the ocean, that knows the tides backwards and forwards and becomes the point man when their boat scrapes bottom on a reef, stranding them all.
We get enough time to get to know these people, to like them all, before they’re dunked, so I gave a shit when they were stranded (take note Open Water). The really interesting thing is that the boat is inoperable and belly up, but still floating, so there’s a crossroads. The boat is in a current taking it further out to sea, but has an older SOS device (that unfortunately only catches the attention of passing planes and they’re outside of all flight routes), so they could stay on the boat, which will surely sink eventually, or make a 12-ish mile swim through shark-infested waters in the direction Walshe-Howling’s Luke thinks there’s land.
It’s the best dilemma in the movie because it’s the only one the characters seem to have any say in how it turns out. And it’s also the scariest to me. I sometimes wonder how I’d react in a situation like this. Would I be petrified with fear or take action? Nobody really knows until they’re in a situation like the one presented here.
It’s a gamble either way… stay on the boat and float out to sea with almost no food or water, hoping to be spotted, or jump into shark-infested water and swim toward the horizon because one guy claims there’s land that way.
It’s a fucked if you do, fucked if you don’t scenario and I find those fascinating because whichever side the characters fall on tells us more about them than any amount of dialogue. It’s a great storytelling device and it’s used very well here not only to tell us about the characters, but also to set up the tension for the swim to come. The strongest character, Warren the hired hand (Kieran Darcy-Smith), a man’s man if there ever was one, won’t get back into the water. “I fish these waters. I know what’s out there.”
So he sends off our group with that ringing in their ears.
The rest of the movie is our go-getters making their way to land. Unfortunately for them they attract a Great White Shark who spends the second half of the movie toying with them and picking them off one by one.
There’s a lot of tension here, but unfortunately the attacks get very repetitive… Someone sees something in the distance, Luke puts on his mask, ducks underwater for a look… sees nothing… then maybe something. Then a fin, the shark circles, everybody panics and the shark either goes away or fucks up someone’s day.
They do this multiple times and if they had been able to vary up the scares and tension this could be a great film. Instead it’s a good movie, a successful shark flick that is an easy recommend for me, but not one I’d say you’ll necessarily fall in love with.
The shark photography is fantastic, though. I’m sure there was some compositing done to get the actors in the same frame with the real life great white, but however they did it it works.
Acting, photography, tension all get high marks. Negative points for the repetition, but that still gives The Reef a passing grade, especially for my fellow sharksploitation fans out there.