Written, Directed and Produced by Andrew Traucki.
Starring Damian Walshe-Howling, Zoe Naylor, Adrienne Pickering, Gyton Grantley and Kieran Darcy-Smith.
Four friends embark on a sailing and snorkelling trip round the Great Barrier Reef, but things are far from idyllic when their boat capsizes and their only chance is to swim through shark-infested waters for land ten miles away.
‘The Shark Movie’ is always going to be a difficult sub-genre to tackle. Simply because, it doesn’t get much better than Jaws. It would be foolhardy of any director to think they can top Spielberg’s blockbuster classic, its shadow looming over any film which dares to feature sharks and take itself reasonably seriously. Which is probably why the only other route available is the comedy/schlock approach which has had varying degrees of success (say what you will, I still REALLY want to see Sharktopus’).
So to make a shark movie and take yourself seriously is already a tall order, but director Andrew Traucki seemed to know what he was doing. For a start, rather than relying on computer-generated sharks (which, on a shoestring budget, would probably look pretty rubbish), he opted for real, fourteen-foot Great Whites, which add a refreshing dose of realism ‘CG’ sharks simply couldn’t match. Any death scenes or actual shots of sharks chowing down on the cast are deftly handled, with cut-aways leaving the most gruesome shots off-screen, therefore far worse being that they’re left to the imagination. We don’t actually see a shark until half way through the film, and even then we barely glimpse it, appearing more and more towards the film’s climax, racking up the tension as it goes.
The realism is further propelled by the decent performances of the relatively unknown cast, who react to their situation with increasing trepidation, dread and eventually outright terror, but rarely straying into over-acting. With the The Reef being based on a true story, any recognisable stars would only distract from the film’s authenticity.
The Reef’s most well-executed element is undoubtedly the unrelenting tension Traucki builds up, most prominently when the boat is capsized, leaving the characters stranded on the now top-side hull of the boat. Natural leader Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) volunteers to go back inside the boat to salvage supplies and the distress beacon, but while he’s inside he hears the other survivors outside banging on the hull and shouting, trying to warn him of something they’ve seen. It’s not just that they’ve seen something, it’s the claustrophobia of the capsized boat and how far away the muffled yells of the other survivors sound to Luke that really add to the tension. Once back up top, Luke argues that their best bet is to swim for land, but fisherman Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith) refuses, saying, “I know these waters, I know what’s out there.” Ominous words like these and the invisible threat of something out there, stalking the group, imbue a sense of dread so thick and tangible that it leaps from the screen and buries itself in your psyche. You wince as they cautiously lower themselves into the water because you know, possibly even more than they do, that something’s waiting for them in that water.
Also of note is the impressive cinematography by Daniel Ardilley, combining stark, wide angle shots and aerial views to convey the ultimate isolation of the characters, underlining the increasingly unlikely chance of rescue. The underwater shots also, mix just the right amount of confusion and clarity, particularly in the early glimpses of the shark, helping to place us in the protagonist’s doomed flippers.
While the plot does find itself in rather predictable waters, particularly towards the end when we’re in ‘who’s going to be picked off next’ mode, the sustaining tension easily holds interest for the eighty minute runtime. As shark movies go, The Reef fares much better than its competitors, never allowing the film to stray into ludicrousness, utilising the realistic approach to convey a tangible tension that Spielberg himself would be proud of.
The Reef is out on DVD on the 24th January.
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