Reviewbr> “I've fished these waters. I know what's out there!” - Warren
Luke and his crew mate Warren have the best job ever, delivering yachts to the far flung corners of the globe. Currently they have a boat due to be delivered to Indonesia the following week, so decide some fun should be had. Luke's ex Kate, plus her brother Matt and his girlfriend Suzie, arrive with the group planning on sailing to an isolated local reef for some marine playtime. Unfortunately things are cut short as the tide is rapidly going out threatening to strand the yacht. It gets worse when the boat rams into a coral outcrop and overturns. The five survive a frantic dash to the surface and are left sitting on a capsized, sinking, hull.
The decision is made to swim to an Island 10 to 12 miles away, with Warren being the only one to decide to stay with the yacht rather than risk encountering any of the denizens of the deep. Warren is aware of what is out there due to manning trawlers etc. As our group of nautical risk takers swim toward the Island they become aware they are being stalked by a shark, and to make it worse the shark is a large white pointer with dinner on it's mind!
Director/Writer Andrew Traucki of course burst into fame Downunder via his awesomely good venture into the mangroves Black Water (2007), which was all kinds of awesome tied up in a bloody good film package. This time around Traucki heads out to open water to deliver the best shark movie since Spielberg hit the summer blockbuster formula with Jaws (1975). Yeah I know big call, but we're talking real shark footage rather than CGI, and a Director who knows how to use tension to get the chills a pumping down your spine. Let's put out a chum line.
Traucki spends the first block of his movie introducing the characters and getting a slight bit of romantic tension happening between Luke and Kate. Refreshingly the characters are real life rather than cardboard cut outs, thus you can believe what you are seeing did happen. The important point here in my far flung opinion is the characters aren't static, there is past history and an uncertain future, the cruise to the Reef is simply one of those interludes. So yes you are invested when the flake hits the fan, rather than rolling your eyes over another movie presenting rich yank teenagers in peril. I was actually really pleased the Director didn't over play his hand with the characters, it would have been real easy to track into the personal drama and lose the focus. We're all here for the shark yo!
What's readily apparent in any sort of analysis is the cool ground work Traucki lays down to hint at what we are going to be rocking to in the second block of the movie. Kate joins Luke in hunting down some spark plugs at a local workshop and comes across a display of shark jaws. One of the mechanics helpfully points out which species individual jaws belong to, before finishing with the great white set of dentures and the opinion that it's strange to see the shark in Northern waters. A small bit further into the movie we learn that more people die of bee stings than shark attacks. You can almost hear the dum-da-dum in the background. I was actually grooving to the plot foreshadowing, oh come on the poster and pre-release publicity blew any chance of keeping the main antagonist secret. It's a shark movie not freaking The Sound of Music, there's going to be some blood in the water.
The Director has some fun post intro with sudden jump scenes. I get the feeling Traucki would have been more than happy to have a cat jump out of a cupboard if he could have somehow fitted it in. I particularly dug the scene, jump to the next paragraph yo spoiler alert, where Kate is snorkelling and watching all the fish disappear from the sudden drop off from the reef. The menace is there kids, and it's a good early hint at what we have coming up.
What really won me over, and hence title of best shark movie since Spielberg took to the Orca, was the ramped up tension Traucki scores in the second block of the movie via the underwater POVs. We have had indications that a shark is out there, do we count Warren seeing water disturbance? - but when Luke ducks underwater to try and see what might be lurking in the murky depths I was there with him, straining to see if something might be closing in on the group. When the shark does make an appearance, is that like twenty minutes into the movie? - the feeling of malevolence is tangible, Traucki rings every single ounce of tension out of the scenes. I guess what really works is the use of real live shark footage rather than CGI inserts. Excellent use of blue screen, there are zero seams showing, once again proving what we expected from Black Water, Traucki is a master at incorporating footage to really make his characters seem in imminent danger.
Notably Traucki goes kinetic with the action scenes. There's a feeling of total anarchy as things go down that will leave you breathless, when the shark does attack it's sudden and deadly, you are left feeling like someone has hit you mid temple with a sledgehammer. Each death is shocking, not so much in terms of gore, The Reef is quite prime and proper on that front, but in terms of the sudden impact. A long period of tension, then wham bam, the shark strikes like there's no tomorrow on the smorgasbord on offer.
I should add before closing that Rafael May nails the score, May clearly knows what Traucki is about and hits the soundscape in excellent fashion.
Yes I know I should be comparing The Reef to Jaws, but to be honest Traucki's movie is far more frightening due to the realistic size of the shark. Spielberg, in my opinion, went slightly off the beaten path with a shark of improbable size that ultimate allows the Audience a point of release, a shark that big don't exist outside Hollywood encounter groups. Traucki doesn't allow the release, real footage, sharks that size are probably a lot closer to you in the Ocean than you might be comfortable with. Bloody hell, I'm moving further inland on the strength of it! Surprisingly I would compare The Reef to Jaws 2 (1978), there's a similar feeling of the shark being a stalker in time honoured slasher fashion, though I would hasten to point out that The Reef is about two hundred percent superior to the second Jaws flick. I guess you could also point to Open Water (2003), though once again Open's Director Chris Kentis is put to shame by Traucki. In the wash up The Reef delivers on what Open Water should have been according to the later movie's over hyped advertising.
From the opening gambits, where Director Traucki effortlessly shows how isolated the main location is, to the final shocking scene, I was spellbound by The Reef. The movie will hold your attention, put you through the wringer, and have you on the edge of your seat. The tension is palatable, as Traucki rings his magic to induce a total movie experience. Full recommendation, I can't wait to see what the Director delivers next. Don't even think of missing this one, else you'll need to hand in your dark genre card at the office.