Film Review – The Reef

The Reef (M)

Directed by: Andrew Traucki

Starring: Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering

Three stars

Review by Julian Wright


You can have all the money a studio can throw at you or you can spend years struggling to raise a handful of cash to make a film about a bunch of people stalked by a shark in the middle of the ocean, but the bottom line is there is not much you can do with the scenario. Jaws started it all with Steven Spielberg taking a B-grade premise and turning it into a summer blockbuster thriller. Renny Harlin dumbed it down with special effects and an action film mentality with Deep Blue Sea and Chris Kentis went simple is better with Open Water.

With all the lame imitations in-between that followed the same formula but substituted the shark with some other ocean critter, it is a fairly tired routine. People go out on a boat, people get stranded in the ocean, people end up being shark’s lunch. With so many variations, pretty much all possible scenarios have been utilised.

Australian attempt The Reef falls closer to Open Water with the limitations of a small budget ensuring that director Andrew Traucki has to work extra hard to frighten the board shorts off his audience. Again, it is more about what you can’t see than several CGI sharks leaping out of the water at the screen. He confirms the less is more approach is still an effective way to go.

Unfortunately, The Reef suffers the same problems as another recent ambitious Australian film Sanctum. You can have all the pulse pounding suspense you can create to put your audience on edge, but if the characters are annoying or the performances unconvincing then you are in trouble.

Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) delivers boats for a living so when his next job is to sail one to Indonesia, he invites his ex-girlfriend Kate (Zoe Naylor) her brother Matt (Gyton Grantley) and his girlfriend Suzie (Adrienne Pickering) to tag along for the ride. Luke and Kate have sailed together before and Matt and Suzie are visiting from London so they are up for a bit of an adventure and some R and R.

After frolicking on a tiny and remote island, the fun is cut short when the yacht capsizes and begins to sink. Luke insists their only chance to survive is to swim up to 12 miles to the nearest island. The others reluctantly agree to go with him. But there are hungry sharks lurking in those 12 miles of ocean.

My fear of the unknown under the ocean’s surface was kickstarted by Jaws and subsequently any film that delves into the dangers of being stranded in the middle of the ocean automatically has my palms sweating. There are some terrific moments of suspense, but the film’s overall effect is burdened by the underdeveloped characters.

The attempted rekindling of the romance between Kate and Luke is so clumsily handled that it looks like an episode of a high school soap opera and Matt and Suzie are given zero background. Having interesting characters to care about would have helped ratchet up the tension when they are put in danger. It is familiar terror-inducing territory that doesn’t offer anything new to the stalking shark sub genre but it does deliver a few thrills.

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