Fear is a universal constant. People of all races, religions, and creeds experience fear on a daily basis. Whether it’s something as small as worrying about the state of your finances, or something more tangible like a big, hairy spider on the wall or getting stuck in the middle of the ocean with a few of your closest friends while a great white shark tries to decide if you’d taste good with some tartar sauce and a nice Merlot. Oh don’t act like it’s never happened to you, we’ve all had shark-related incidents in our lives. Mine occurred around the tender age of 5, when my parents subjected me to the horrors of Jaws for the first time. I’d never seen a shark, never even heard of one. A shark? What’s that, Mommy? A fluffy, cuddly stuffed toy?
Actual TheMatt, circa 1983, quotation right there, folks. Feel free to frame it.
To say that Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece left quite an impact of my fragile, little psyche would be an understatement of epic proportions. That very same night, my mother had to gently persuade me, with gentle condescension and a sharp stick, to climb into the bathtub. I sat there for half an hour, afraid to move, scared that the tiniest vibration would ring dinner bells at some shark’s undersea home. When it came time to exit the tub, I managed a triple axel, double somersault, spinning dismount that would have had Olympic-caliber athletes throwing their panties at me.
Yeah. So. I hate sharks. Is the point I’m making.
For the record, there’s a special place reserved in Hades for my bosses, who are making me review the fucking shark movie. You know what? The heck with this! I’m not sitting down for two hours, scared out of my skull, trying to take down notes while a frakking killer shark barrels at me like it’s about to erupt out of the goddamn TV screen! I ain’t doing it. Nuh-uh. No way, no how. NO!
Ah, problem employee urn. We meet again.
The Reef, directed by Andrew Traucki, is a surprisingly taut, terrifying tale. Going in, I expected something similar to 2003’s Open Water, that low-budget fright flick that managed to rake in tons of cash at the box office. It was an easy, though uninformed, comparison to make. Both movies are low-budget affairs, stars complete unknowns, and feature people being stalked by toothy undersea predators. While Open Water was mostly a character piece with someelements thrown in, The Reef is a full-blown horror movie, with all the tension building and spooks that entail.
And tension is what The Reef excels at. While the opening scenes are mostly standard genre fare, with each bland character getting some development to generate audience sympathy once they’re bobbing in the ocean later on, The Reef still sells you on its ever-approaching sense of doom with gorgeous cinematography. Whether it’s the few scenes on land, which you’ll quickly miss, to shots of the cast’s boat looking like a tiny dot on a vast canvass of blue, The Reef is shot beautifully.
Shortly, and perhaps inevitably, the boat runs aground on an upraised underwater reef and overturns, leaving our vacationers stranded and facing a horrifying choice: stay with the slowly sinking boat, which is drifting farther into the blue, or swim for shore in shark-infested waters. It’s one of those life-deciding acts of faith that I’m glad I’ll never have to confront. It’s like ending up in hell and having to choose between two flavors of eternal damnation: Bieber or Cyrus. Either way, blood will be spilled.
The Reef‘s cast of characters is somewhat over-developed for this sort of movie. No matter how many plots, details, love triangles, or character relationships the movie threw at me, I still resorted to referring to the cast as “the annoying brother,” “the crusty sea captain” and “that guy I couldn’t be bothered to name.” It’s nice thatTraucki went a little further in developing his characters than those found in most horror movies, but, ultimately, shark fodder is shark fodder. At the very least, his actors are strong enough that, even though some are more annoying than others, their deaths still hit home. Nobody in this movie deserves the horrible fate that awaits them.
While the actors playing the pair of unlucky divers in Open Water had to contend with actual, real-life sharks while filming, The Reef flawlessly combines footage of its cast with that of a gigantic great white shark. There is no CGI here and the movie is all the better for it. The effect is perfect, at no point do you fail to believe in the finned specter of death circling the survivors. I don’t know if the casting director went out of his way to look for the most evil-looking shark ever, but he certainly found it. Our victims’ tormentor spends the entire movie with this grim reaper-like grin on its face, as if it feels like the luckiest damn shark in the ocean for having found these stupid white people just waiting to be eaten.
The Reef succeeds where 90% of horror movies fail by completely cutting off our heroes from all escape routes. They can’t run, or at the very least swim very fast. Safety is not forthcoming. There is, quite literally, nowhere for them to go. They can only go down into the abyss or floss the shark’s teeth with their leg bones. It’s this sheer, palpable, horrifying inevitability that catapults The Reef into the realm of excellent horror movies. It’s not without its share of flaws, most of them inherent to the genre, but The Reef deserves to be seen.
Just don’t take a bath afterward. And remember: when you let the water out, that’s when the sharks come for you. Screw the rubber ducky, grab a fucking spear gun!
- Yell! Rating (x/5 Skulls):
- Year Released:
- 19 July 2011 (USA)
- Andrew Traucki
- Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley and Adrienne Pickering
- Horror, Thriller
- Official URL:
- The Reef Movie