Australian film once again does its best to deter any potential overseas tourists with the incredibly tense shark flick, The Reef. Matt (Gyton Grantley) and Suzie (Adrienne Pickering) have just flown over from England to spend time with Matt’s best mate, Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling). Matt’s sister, Kate (Zoe Naylor), is also along for the trip, and it’s clear that Kate and Luke have a romantic history that they’re unwilling to address. When the four of them head out to sea to do some snorkelling over the reef, they find themselves being hunted by a great white shark.
I’m going to get this out of the way now: it sounds like hyperbole, but The Reef is the scariest shark movie I’ve seen since Jaws. Once events take a turn for the worse, The Reef is an experiment in edge-of-your-seat tension.
The special effects are tremendous. There’s practically no CGI to be seen here, and in fact most of the time we’re seeing real shark footage rotoscoped into sharing a frame with humans. Thus, time and time again, we DO get to see the shark, and it never looks fake (similar to the crocodile in Andrew Traucki’s last feature, Black Water). In fact this is a masterclass in the blending of live animal footage with that of humans. Naturally, it probably helps that they’re only working with an all-blue background most of the time, but the end result is practically flawless.
Once our hapless characters realise there’s something big and toothy out there, we’re subjected to lengthy, underwater POV shots of the endless blue. Each time this occurred, my eyes were scanning the entire frame, looking out for a telltale fin. I haven’t stared this closely at an image in the cinema since Michael Hanneke’s Hidden (Caché).
The victims are decently written, but nothing too special. I could have done with a little bit more character development, actually – as it is, the group were likeable without being particularly memorable. The acting, however, is great – and the terror is chillingly portrayed. Rafael May’s score perfectly underlines the anxiety also.
There are a few flaws present. First of all, once the horror reaches a certain point, the escalation ceases. Understanding that this is too serious a film to have a character use a compressed air tank to blow the shark up, it is still a teensy bit disappointing. The only other aspect of the film which really bothered me was the difficulty in telling Suzie and Kate apart. When you’re spending a good hour only seeing their heads bobbing above the water, it would have been nice if they perhaps had completely different hair colour, especially since their facial features are rather similar.
If you haven’t been scared by cinematic sharks since you first went out on the Orca with Sheriff Brody et al, then I suggest you catch The Reef – a truly terrifying experience. I’m eager to see what animal Andrew Traucki tackles next – after a killer croc and a killer shark, surely he’s running out of Australian man-eaters?Rating: