Before I start this, I need to get something out of the way: I have never, and possibly will never, understand the appeal of Shark Week. I mean, why do sharks get their own week and why do the masses care so much? The popularity of such a thing has always baffled me, but, I digress. The point of this post is to review a slightly different shark filled film than most, this one being the Australian film THE REEF which was only recently released here in the US though it hit Australia last year.
THE REEF has basically gone DTV here in the states, and perhaps unfairly so. However, it is not hard to see why. This is not an action film by any means, and is nowhere near campy/fun enough to get younger cinema goers excited much like something such as SHARK NIGHT 3D is liable to. Actually, the film that this is likely (and both fairly and unfairly) to get compared to is OPEN WATER. Yes, this is that type of movie. If you’re looking to fill your Shark Week with campy shark fare than hit up the latest batch of SyFy releases as this is not what you’re looking for.
THE REEF has a lot in common with OPEN WATER, yet at the same time they’re pretty drastically different films. This one is actually much more grand in scale, with more people, seemingly more distance traversed and…more sharks. What they do share in common, though, is precisely what will keep this film from reaching the audience it should see (and probably the reason it did not get a theatrical release here): it is slow. Now, when I said this one was more grand in scale, I did not mean that the characters brandish shotguns, boat motors and there is some jet-ski, fire and gore filled climax ala PIRANHA 3D. No, it is merely more grand in scale than OPEN WATER, which is practically like saying that a real car is bigger than a toy car. Not that OPEN WATER is a toy, or something. Fucking analogies. See what Shark Week does to me?
THE REEF concerns six people, compared to OPEN WATER’s two, who board a sailboat in Australia with the intent of seeing pretty, natural things that the country has to offer. Upon hitting a rock, the boat submerges and they’re all just about fucked. Of course, there is a shark involved and you can all figure out what the movie is about from that point on. THE REEF is a slow burn, the shark (or family of sharks) is not even in the film until the halfway point and once this happens it is still a film primarily composed of people swimming and yelling.
What THE REEF really has going for it though is something most shark films, especially recent ones, don’t: a real fucking shark. Maybe this film has helped me understand why people like Shark Week so much, sharks are rather scary on their own. So, the shark looks awesome (how can it not?) and the acting is rather solid which makes the element of fear present and felt. However, where THE REEF goes and mucks it all up is in the editing. I’m not sure how much of this was shot on location or on sets, but it is very obvious that the shark and the actors were not close to each other. Whenever the camera goes under water, it is as if the water seems to change a bit and/or the orientation of the actors becomes off. It is far from seamless and really begins to ruin the illusion at certain points. In that respect, it is more ambitious than OPEN WATER in that it shows more of the shark but at the same time that is what really hinders the experience.
THE REEF also happens to be based on a true story. At the end of the film there is a written epilogue which tells about the characters, yet it does not state much about facts. Upon research (thanks internet!) it sounds as if the film is fairly faithful to the events that it portrays, though it seems to take place over a much shorter period of time. That said, this type of thing can’t be doing wonders for Australian tourism, especially any that is taking place on water. Hell, do a double feature of this and ROGUE as in flight entertainment on Australian flights and see how many immediately board the next plane back.
THE REEF is by no means a great film, it is not even a great shark film. It will compliment your Shark Week rather nicely though and has enough going for it that it is deserving of a recommendation as long as you adjust your expectations accordingly. It is suspenseful enough (and light on gore) to attract an audience not necessarily fond of over-the-top horror but its lack of humor and slow pacing is sure to deter some of the many who may pick it up based solely on the cover art and/or concept.