I thought I would give myself a break from the big boobs and cheesiness of my regular weekly fare, enjoy a bit of a treat and watch a shark movie that is done to perfection. The Reef, folks, is a masterpiece of simplicity and palpable vulnerability.
Much like the oft-praised Open Water, the film focuses on the terrifying isolation of people swimming in the vast and hopeless open ocean. That is one of my worst nightmares. Not the sharks, although I am sure that would cross my mind in that situation. But the isolation! Being just a little insignificant blip on the humongous radar of the sea. Yikes.
Now add in some stunning footage of a real Great White and characters who act logically and reasonably? You have sharksploitation perfection, my friends.
Andrew Traucki, the Australian director, has wooed me before with his croc creature feature, Black Water. He has a knack for creating gut-wrenching suspense while simultaneously holding back on showing the monster. This guy gets it.
The plot of The Reef revolves around a group of friends who, after day sailing to a reef to go snorkeling, capsize and are thrust into some serious shit. They have to make a tough decision whether to ride it out on a possibly sinking capsized wreck, or try to swim the 10 miles in the open ocean to a small island. Very early in the film, you get the gist of the characters’…um…character. With the exception of one obvious chicken shit (you’ll know which one pretty quickly) these are likeable, intelligent and logical people. Even the initial decision to swim or not to swim is already important to you. Maybe it’s just their adorable accents? Probably.
Almost all of the movie is in the bleakness of the featureless empty ocean. Well, almost empty. There is a pretty big white pointer stalking their delicious Aussie asses. The decision to forgo the usual CGI cine-shark for actual GWS footage was immensely successful. It looks like this is really happening. Adding to the realism, the characters all act like a real person would act in this god awful predicament. They do everything right: try not to make too much splashing noise, use a watch to navigate, stay in a tight group, use wetsuits to fend off hypothermia. Nevertheless, when a big mother of a shark sets her sights on your tender flesh, y’all are fucked. (How do I know the shark is a she? No genital claspers. See, you just learned a thing! Now you don’t have to look under a Great White’s skirt to find out, which I do not recommend.)
When someone is attacked in this film, it is truly shocking. I mean, I expected that would happen but when it did, I found it to not be fun at all. It is heartbreaking and brutal. It looks very, very real. The characters react in realistic ways. It is raw and unlike 90% of the shark attack crap-extravaganzas out there in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love shitty shark movies, but this is not one of them. I was not laughing.
The set is simply the sea. The characters are few. The monster is relentless. There is such beauty in this film, and the vulnerability is exposed to the point of being a whole other character itself. The ending punches you in the face with its sheer devastation. I wish there wasn’t an afterword at the end. That’s my one complaint. Leave it be. I don’t want to know what happened after the film stopped rolling. Just shut your mouth and let me be miserable for one goddamn moment, will ya?
The Reef is a shark movie done right. Medium raw with some sear around the edges. I highly encourage you to watch this one as well as Traucki’s crocsploitation flick, Black Water. He knows how to get expensive champagne suspense on a beer budget.
See ya next time!
Director: Andrew Traucki
Where to watch: Amazon Prime
Splatterpunk nominated author Susan Snyder’s debut chapbook of poetry.