Out of all the films I’ve reviewed this week, THE REEF is the one I whole-heartedly recommend most of all. As I explain in each column’s intro, there is nothing more frightening to me than a shark. Maybe it’s something engrained in my primal being. Maybe I was chomped in half by one when I was a kid. No matter what the reason, merely seeing a shark on screen scares the piddle out of me. Director / writer Andrew Traucki is counting on this fear throughout THE REEF and delivers a nerve-shredding lost at sea masterpiece from beginning to end. Shot on a limited budget, Traucki makes do with every trick he has and offers a convincing tale of survival pitting man vs. the most dangerous sea predator on the planet; the great white shark.
A quintet of beautiful people set out on a snorkeling cruise along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. When their boat capsizes and overturns after hitting a reef, the group must decide whether they want to die of dehydration on the boat or brave shark infested waters. Knowing what you know now about me, you know which I would choose, but this group chooses to take their chances in the water. The cast, lead by impressive leading man with the coolest name I’ve ever heard of Damian Walshe-Howling are all pretty damn impressive and they had better be because the film hinges on their performances as they swim along the open sea. Walshe-Howling commands the screen every second that he on it as a good intentioned sailor who convinces the group to swim to an island no one can see. Zoe Naylor is also very good in this as Walshe-Howling’s estranged girlfriend. The emotional core of the film rests on these two and the likeability of these actors makes it easy to root for these two to make it to shore.
I hate director Andrew Traucki for making such an effective shark film. He pulls out all of the stops, taking full advantage of the fear of what’s below the surface of the water, focusing most of the time on the fearful faces of the humans bobbing above water. Traucki cleverly uses the limitation that only one of the swimmers possesses a diving mask to look and see what’s swimming around down there. The audience only sees the flurry of shark activity underwater when Walshe-Howling does when he bobs underwater. By doing this, the viewer, much like the rest of the three swimmers are blind most of the time, only knowing what terror brews beneath in the splash filled frantic scans Walshe-Howling witnesses with the goggles. It’s a clever way to manipulate the viewer and I fell for it every damn time.
I guarantee you will have a fear-filled toe-curling good time being scared at this film. THE REEF will make you pull your legs up tight into you whether you’re in water or not. It is a film that had me out of my seat and literally screaming for the swimmers to get to shore. And the underwater scenes of the shark barreling toward the viewer reminded me of the stuff of my worst nightmares. THE REEF is an absolutely horrifying good time and one of the best shark films since JAWS.