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Saturday, July 9, 2011

THE REEF -- DVD review by porfle

Since I still haven't seen OPEN WATER--the film that this type of "predicament" movie is most logically compared to--I was going to liken THE REEF (2010) to another white-knuckle cinematic ordeal of a few years back called BLACK WATER.  Then I found out that THE REEF and BLACK WATER were directed by the same person, Andrew Traucki, which pretty much makes sense, I guess.

Since this type of movie puts innocent people into some kind of survival situation from which the only escape is either death or suffering through a terrible ordeal, it's meant more to be endured than enjoyed.  If done right, the result is prolonged, almost unbearable suspense that makes you sick to your stomach.  With BLACK WATER, Traucki proved himself quite adept at this sort of film, and THE REEF is another successful installment in his quest to make us all feel bad.

As usual, the main characters are a bunch of fairly nice people that we don't really want anything bad to happen to.  Damian Walshe-Howling plays Luke, an amiable young seafarer hired to deliver a yacht.  Turning the job into a pleasure cruise, he invites his old friend Matt (Gyton Grantley) and Matt's girlfriend Suzie (Adrienne Pickering) along for the ride, in addition to Matt's sister Kate (Zoe Naylor).  Kate happens to be Luke's old girlfriend so there's some unfinished romantic business between the two.  Rounding out the group is Luke's deck hand Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith).

The first third or so of the film consists of them having a wonderful time sailing and romping around on a secluded island while we get to know them and wait for their false sense of security to be shattered.  This happens several miles out to sea when the yacht suddenly bashes into a reef and capsizes, leaving them stranded.  They now have two choices--wait on top of the overturned boat, which is slowly sinking, or try to swim back to the island.  Warren knows what's out there and refuses to budge.  The rest inch nervously into the water and paddle away, keeping their eyes peeled for things like, you know, sharks and stuff.

We don't even see one until the movie's almost half over, yet the suspense generated by this simple premise is almost paralyzing at times.  As I said about BLACK WATER, this is one of those movies where you (a) don't want anything to happen, and (b) don't want to start liking the characters because you know some of them are about to die horribly.  Of course, I did start liking the characters, and things did start to happen, mostly involving lots of blood and screaming.  Traucki is positively sadistic in the way he draws out the suspense as Luke and the gang catch fleeting glimpses of moving shapes (such as shark fins) and helplessly await the arrival of those gnashing jaws from below. 

The first attack relieves all that pent-up tension that's been building since the movie began, but it doesn't take long for us to start biting our nails again.  (I actually did catch myself literally biting my nails once or twice.)  Actual footage of a big-ass shark filmed off the Australian coast is well integrated and even the occasional SPFX shots are pretty good, while the actors do a fine job of reacting to it all exactly the way I would--with gibbering, bug-eyed terror.

The final segment of the film really stretches our nerves back and forth like a rubber band as the survivors spot what may be their salvation in the distance, only to find it frustratingly out of reach as the shark renews its attack.  And yes, the characters have been developed just enough to make us care about them, damn it, so in addition to stomach-souring suspense there's also the sadness that goes along with seeing some nice people turned into shark crunchies.  This continues right up until the last possible moment, leaving me nauseated and bummed out at the fadeout.  Since that's exactly what this movie sets out to do, then mission accomplished.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras consist of a trailer and a making-of featurette, "Shooting with Sharks." 

Though the tagline "Who will survive--and what will be left of them?" is already taken, it would've been just right for THE REEF.  (And much better than the real one, "Pray that you drown first.")  While this low-budget production is technically well done, there's really not much more to it after the yacht wreck than four people paddling around out in the water amidst some shark footage and a few SPFX.  But what Andrew Traucki does with these simple ingredients adds up to an exhausting experience that's almost as much of an ordeal for the viewer as it is for the characters.  If that's your idea of fun, then dive right in.

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