When a film opens with the words ‘based on true events’ you inevitably find yourself approaching it with some degree of trepidation. Such foreboding is only heightened when one of the characters confidently states that you’re ‘more likely to die from a bee sting than get killed by a shark’. Oh dear. Obviously the film’s five main characters soon find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean being harassed by a great white. Do they all survive to see the credits roll? Of course not…
All the stalwarts of your generic horror are present (this time sporting Australian accents); there’s suitably terse sexual tension between love-phobe Kate (Zoe Naylor) and the carefree rogue Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling), the depressingly sensible (and rather nihilistic) Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith) and the cutesy (and overly optimistic) couple Suzie (Adrienne Pickering) and Matt (Gyton Grantly). Although most films let such staples play their inevitable parts, The Reef refreshingly provides thrills and spills that counter any meagre expectations.
Written and directed by Andrew Traucki, The Reef may be based on a simple premise but is nonetheless engaging and leads to a truly nail-biting finale. An idyllic morning on a week’s boating holiday goes horribly awry when the holidayer’s boat suddenly snags on the reef and capsizes (don’t worry – this isn’t exactly a spoiler as you see it coming before you’ve even popped the disc in the dvd player). Sitting atop their upturned boat, the characters face a gloomy future and are left with the troubling question – just what is lurking in the water? Sharks, obviously. And pretty big ones at that.
After a brief (and rather heated) discussion they decide to commit the ultimate movie sin and split up in the face of danger (don’t these guys ever go to the movies?), with most of the group committing themselves to the ‘easy’ 10 mile swim to the nearest uninhabited (and rather illusive) island. Sharks begin to circle and the group begin to find themselves facing their very worst fears. Cue mass ‘den-den, den-den, den-den’s from the audience as Jaws springs inevitably to mind.
Whilst trying to swim through the pain barrier, Matt cheerfully proposes that they each imagine having sex to try and alleviate the aching bought on by the incessant swimming. The group’s thoughts quickly move away from the bedroom as a shark attacks just moments later, bursting the carefree bubble blown by their optimistic illusions. The characters do, a little annoyingly, seem to hold the belief that merely by shouting people’s names they will encourage them to come back intact and missing no limbs, but at least their hearts are in the right place.
The film neatly uses underwater shots to great effect whilst the sense of isolation is made even more powerful by panning in on the survivors from great distances. Incapable of shrugging off the inevitable comparisons to films such as Open Water and Adrift, The Reef still manages to play tantalisingly with tension making for some terrifying, and quite wince-worthy, moments. If a film was to ever encourage you to learn to swim (and how to swim fast), it would be this one.
Most important lesson to be gleaned from their experiences: Don’t splash.
Best line: ‘Swim. FUCKING SWIM!’