Well, firstly, I suppose it’s necessary to mention that I haven’t seen “Open Water”. Or “Adrift”. Or “Lifeboat”. So I came into “The Reef” pretty fresh and altogether clueless to the ‘stuck in the middle of the ocean’ subgenre, which means I’ll be able to give a newcomers perspective, and judge it entirely on its own merits as a stand-alone picture.
What I can also say is that if “Open Water”, “Adrift” and “Lifeboat” are as good as “The Reef” then I had better pull my finger out and watch them.
“The Reef” was, much like the shark that inhabits the picture, a ruthlessly efficient beast. From the very start there’s a tense air to the proceedings, and even during the most jovial and care-free moments of the first 20 minutes, you can’t help but be suspicious of being lulled into a false sense of security by the sneaky filmmakers. This feeling is justified though, mainly because they are – they’re setting up this nice group of 5 people on a happy holiday for an almighty fall.
This particular fall being a capsized and now slowly sinking boat, a lack of distress equipment, the fact that they’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, and the small problem of all the huge man-eating sharks that call the sea their home. So, after a bit of squabbling and a few false shark-alarms, it’s decided that they should probably try and swim towards land. Luckily they’ve got experienced sailor Luke to guide them on their swim, so everything’s skippy. Well, no actually, because no matter how many times you’ve been out to sea, when faced with a massive, hungry shark, your chances of survival aren’t going to be too great.
Either way, four of them set off into the ocean while one stays behind (soon to get surrounded by sharks). Soon enough, one of the swimmers spots a shark, and it’s a fight for survival as the group try to find land without falling victim to its jaws.
From here on in, the film doesn’t go anywhere other than the section of ocean in which these guys are treading water – so if you find these ‘everything’s happening in one place’ films difficult to watch, then I suppose “The Reef” will be a bit tiresome. However, if you’re not an idiot with no attention span, then you’ll find much to love here – for regardless of its single setting, it manages to consistently hold a tight grip through its simple premise. It’s always exciting, unbearably tense, thoroughly frightening and it also evokes the tried and tested ‘what would you do?’ reaction from the audience. Not least because it’s all based on a true story, a fact which makes the characters all the more relatable, and the situation all the more terrifying and tragic.
It helps that it’s backed up with strong naturalistic performances all around of course – even if they do descend into histrionics at numerous points, but then wouldn’t you in the same situation? There’s also a bit of character background thrown in for good measure, which certainly helps once the the film hits its stride – but even without a back-story, the skilled actors would most likely have been able to pull off characters that the audience cares about anyway. Although to be truthful, surely anyone being chased by a giant shark deserves our sympathies?
Also, and perhaps most effectively, there’s no stupid CGI “Deep Blue Sea” iShark stalking our characters. It’s mostly real stuff all the way. The seamless integration of both shark and actor helps to create a realistic and therefore far more frightening experience than any sub-”Shark Attack” monstrosity could have imagined. It’s a marvel how the filmmakers managed to get the shark to do what they wanted, and if they didn’t, there was a miracle performed in the editing suite – there’s not one point where anything looks staged.
So forget that I haven’t seen “Open Water” (does it really matter?), because it’s still possible for me to recommend “The Reef” wholeheartedly. Whether your reception of the film will differ if you’ve seen any of the similar titles I’ve mentioned is a moot point, because a verdict taken from the ‘Is this a good film regardless of anything else that might be a bit similar to it?’ scale reads: YES. It’s a very good film, largely because it achieves exactly what it sets out to do – scare the bloody pants off you.
“The Reef” is out on region 2 DVD on 24th January from Momentum Pictures