Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: The Reef (Andrew Traucki, 2011)

The Reef is written, directed and produced by Andrew Traucki, who’s talent was first recognized in his well-received low-budget horror film, Black Water, which was set in the mangrove seas of Northern Australia and inspired by a true story of a crocodile attack. Here the stakes are upped and Traucki focuses on another aquatic predator, the Great White Shark, and again bases his tale on true events. The Reef had its world premiere as a market screening at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010 before its wide Australian release earlier in the year. 

The film is about a group of friends who capsize while sailing through the Great Barrier Reef. Luke (Damien Walshe-Howling, Underbelly) invites his old friend Matt (Gyton Grantley, Underbelly), Matt’s girlfriend Suzie (Adrienne Pickering) and Matt’s sister Kate (Zoe Naylor), who used to be Luke’s girlfriend, to come along. Luke has taken on a job where he delivers boats to clients – by sailing them internationally to them. His skilled seamanship is alluded to when Kate discusses their cruise through the Mediterranean together.

Joining them is Warren (Keiran Darcy-Smith), a deckhand working with Luke. After some snorkeling and some bonding – Luke and Kate rekindle their complex relationship – tragedy strikes. The keel of the boat is destroyed when it hits the bottom of the reef, the boat capsizes, and they all clamber aboard. Despite Warren’s fears that the water is shark infested, Luke believes that the boat will eventually sink and that the tide is pushing them further out to sea, encouraging the others to swim with him to nearby Turtle Island (which he estimates is 12 miles away). They set out, but soon enough find themselves stalked and terrorized by a large Great White Shark.

While we know that a shark attack is imminent and that some of the party will be killed (what would the story be if they weren’t), we never really know when or how. Traucki torments the audience by delaying the grisly deaths, and building a suffocating suspense. Once the four primary characters hit the water and try and make for the island, the tension is relentless. There are several effective scares throughout their journey; the discovery of a dismembered turtle is particularly well done, and the first encounter with the shark features a convincing series of cuts between Luke’s reaction to the shark, and actual shark footage.

The use of the actual footage, which was taken off the South Australian coast (the rest of the footage was shot in Queensland’s Harvey Bay, Fraser Island and Bowen Bay) eliminates the need for CGI and makes the threat feel much more realistic (obviously) but much more imminent. What is impressive is that a lot of the time the bodies of the characters, and the sharks, are in the same shot.

There is also a great early scene when Luke is exploring the upturned boat for food and useful supplies. He can barely hear the cries of his friends from above, who have spotted something in the water. The boat is continually creaking and there is an occasional dull thud. Though Traucki indulges in jump-scares, it is the use of sound in this scene that is particularly effective. Viewers well and truly know that the spine-tingling moments have begun.

What certainly lets the film down are the characterizations and individual development. Really, all we really need to know is that they are friends, and Luke has invited them on a sailing holiday. One they have willingly accepted. The script tries to humanize them a little by throwing in some romantic tension, which is quite woeful, because I feared for their lives entirely because they were likeable enough and through no fault of their own, run into some bad luck and are forced to make a harrowing choice.

The performances are all acceptable, in what would have been a very physical production, and the photography from Daniel Ardillery is skillful. At 88 minutes The Reef is taut horror that doesn’t waste time, is smart in the use of stock footage and is ultimately chillingly effective.

My Rating: ★★★ (C+)

1 comment:

  1. Great review. This is one of those films I watched while recovering from wisdom teeth removal. I don't remember most of it :/