19 January 2011

Movie Review: The Reef


The Reef
2010, 94mins, 15
Director: Andrew Traucki
Writer: Andrew Traucki
Cast includes: Zoe Naylor, Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Kieran Darcy-Smith
UK Release Date: 24th January 2011

I was fairly apathetic toward Andrew Traucki’s directorial debut “Black Water”, a 2007 Crocodile shocker that was perilously short on bite. Not to be bested by the tepid critical response to his first film, Traucki has stuck with the creature feature template for his second outing, this time taking the action into the shark infested waters of Australia. “The Reef” is definitely a more suspenseful sit than “Black Water”, Traucki mixing unsettling stillness with genuine Great White shark footage to sublime effect. However as was the case with the filmmaker’s previous picture, “The Reef” is hampered by soggy characterization and stilted acting. It’s a clear improvement for Traucki, but it’s still not a certifiably gratifying final product.

Five friends decide to go on a sailing expedition in Australia, taking their boat out into the local waters in order to enjoy some of the hidden island paradises scattered across the ocean. After their vehicle is mysteriously capsized the gang are left with a dilemma, do they stay, or strike out and make for a chunk of land about 10 miles away? Luke ((Damien Walshe-Howling) is convinced they should go for the latter, much to the disapproval of his anxious shipmate Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith). Warren has spent years working on fishing boats, and knows exactly what these waters are home to. Disregarding his friend’s advice, Luke leads the rest of the gang out into the isolated open, wading slowly through the ocean in search of land. However it isn’t long before they spark the interest of a local inhabitant, a 15-foot Great White Shark with a thirst for blood. As the group nervously paddle toward safety, the massive predator silently stalks them, and before long begins to take them one by one.

The use of wide open spaces in “The Reef” is exemplary, Traucki utilizing the depth and loneliness of sea exquisitely. The filmmaker does a good job of cultivating a sense of hopelessness, and the toothy shark sequences are tense affairs. However “The Reef” is undone thanks to an inept screenplay, a piece of writing peppered with underdeveloped characters and wooden dialogue. It takes Traucki a considerable while to get the ball rolling (there’s no beastie action for at least 30 minutes), the first act of the picture amounting to little more than a dramatically inert slog. None of the relationships or screen entities feel convincing, the most impressively fleshed out figure is easily the shark itself.

It’s not that “The Reef” is stacked with obnoxious or unlikable personalities, it’s just none of the characters have any emotional credibility. Traucki has done a sour job of pumping “The Reef” with any proper semblance of humanity, a little surprising given that the story is based on true events. I strongly suspect the survivors of this ordeal won’t be overly impressed by their onscreen interpretations, there’s just no way audiences will respond or be captivated by such cardboard cut-outs. All of this is worsened thanks to the shoddy thespian input evidenced here, everybody completely out acted by their hungry nemesis. This was also a key concern with “Black Water”, and one that Traucki needs to address if he ever gets the chance to forge a third directorial gig.

“The Reef” avoids using digitals or animatronics, instead opting to intersperse an actual shark into proceedings. Obviously this bolsters the film’s realism, and adds an extra layer of terrifying believability to the attack sequences. Traucki deserves praise for editing the creature so seamlessly into the film, after all, there’s no way the director placed his cast in the water with an actual Great White. Instead through some cunning shot construction and imaginative use of the ever creepy dorsal fin, “The Reef” is able to instil terror without having to overload on dodgy CGI. It’s a welcome treat.

The production will obviously encourage comparisons to 2003’s “Open Water”, a similarly pitched film that cared more about character than any form of aquatic menace. Traucki builds “The Reef” up into a satisfactory thriller during its climax, but that’s still not enough to compensate for the weak screenplay and stodgy performances. It’s clearly half a solid movie (which is more than can be said for “Black Water”), but by turns it’s also 50% dreadful. I can’t say such a ratio inspires me to grant it any sort of whole hearted recommendation, but hey, shark fanatics might get a kick out of it.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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