Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Andrew Traucki
Stars: Damien Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Zoe Naylor, Adrienne Pickering, .
Ever since Jaws scared the bejesus out of us 35 years ago, there have been numerous rip-offs, sequels and variations on the theme. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water along comes The Reef, a low budget Australian made thriller that quite effectively plays on our fear of sharks.
Based on a true story, the premise behind The Reef is, in many ways, similar to that of the low budget Open Water, which told the story of a couple of divers left behind in shark infested waters. Here four friends set out for an idyllic week of cruising and diving around the Great Barrier Reef. But they become stranded in the ocean when their boat hits a coral reef, overturns and slowly begins to sink. Rather than wait for rescue, the four begin a long swim through shark infested water towards land. It soon becomes a desperate fight for survival.
Writer/director Andrew Traucki obviously has an affinity for stories in which humans face off against one of nature’s most fearsome predators. His first feature was the 2007 thriller Black Water, in which a group of people tried to escape from a hungry giant crocodile in the remote Northern Territory bush.
There are naturalistic performances from the small cast that includes Damien Walshe-Howling and Gyton Grantley, both from Underbelly, as well as relative newcomers Zoe Naylor (from McLeod’s Daughters, etc) and Adrienne Pickering (from Home And Away, etc), who all look convincingly scared.
This looks like an arduous shoot, as the actors spend most of their time in water. It was filmed on locations around Queensland’s Hervey Bay and Fraser Island. Traucki shot plenty of footage of a great white shark, which he cleverly integrates with that of the actors. He ratchets up the suspense and terror quite effectively. Characterisation is slim here, but we still come to feel for this quartet and their plight.
There is some impressive underwater photography from Daniel Ardilley, which adds to the atmosphere and sense of tension. Traucki also infuses the film with an impressive sense of isolation and desperation. Rafael May’s score also adds to the tension. But, unlike John Williams’ memorable driving theme in Spielberg’s Jaws, Traucki doesn’t use music cues to alert us to the shark’s presence, which somehow adds to the tension. He also keeps the gore to a minimum, and he lets the audience’s imagination do a lot of the work here.
The Reef is a well-crafted and taut entry into the canon of shark movies. It’s hard not to compare it to Open Water, but this local production is easily the superior film. With a relatively short running time of just over 90 minutes, The Reef provides maximum thrills without overstaying its welcome.