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Movie Reviews

The Reef



Released: 2011

Directed By: Andrew Traucki

Starring: Damian Walshe-Howling, Zoe Naylor, Gyton Grantley

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Ryan Gelley

You’ll have to forgive any spelling errors, I can’t stop shaking after viewing The Reef.  My last experience with “killer-fish”-type movies was last year’s Piranha, which was terrific and funny and gory, but not very scary.  I had forgotten how truly frightening the mysterious, unfathomable depths of unfamiliar waters can be.  Whenever I’m in a body of water whose bottom I cannot see or touch, I get a little nervous.  I know there’s weird, otherworldly creatures down there just looking up at my legs.  The Reef takes this feeling, magnifies it, and makes me take a silent vow to never find myself on a boat without a jet-pack…just in case.

The Reef follows 4 friends on a boating expedition to the Great Barrier Reef, accompanied by salty yet endearing sailor-man Warren.  In under 20 minutes, we are skillfully introduced to all 5, are made to understand how they relate to each other, and given reasons to want them to survive.  Unlike the aforementioned Piranha, where the characters were simply fish-fodder, douchebags whose grisly deaths we cheered, The Reef’s cast seem human.  All of the main characters have (mostly) great dialogue to work with, and give competent, believable performances.  After 20 minutes spent with them, I don’t want to watch these nice young people get devoured.  Water and hungry sea-life are really the only things Piranha and The Reef have in common.  Jaws and Open Water are better comparisons in terms of mood, approach, and characterization.

Writer/director Traucki does a fine job of slowly, surely ramping up the tension for almost an hour, by which point I was curled into a terrified fetal position, squinting at the screen and hearing my heart in my ears.  The film gives us many “did you see that!?” moments, and when not in my fetal position, I found myself leaning forward and asking myself  “was that a wave, or..?”  When the boat inevitably capsizes, and they swim off (minus Warren) to find a nearby(?) inland, it gets even scarier.  The sense of dread that haunted the film turns quickly to terror, and I challenge anyone watching to tell me their toes didn’t tingle a bit when the sharks began to circle.  Even when approaching what is clearly a dead turtle, thoughts of what is gliding beneath them wracks the nerves.  As Matt swims away from the group to retrieve an errant flotation device, the meaningful close-up and outstandingly creepy score tell us he may not come back.

To avoid spoilers, I will not reveal who gets eaten and who gets rescued, we know a horror film would not be made about an uneventful swim.  Before I saw it, I knew nothing of the true events which inspired The Reef, and I suggest waiting until after watching it to do the research.  Although, knowing who’s dying next may have actually increased the terror.  I’d be yelling “swim faster, fucker! you’re up!”

I was extremely impressed by The Reef.  It’s a rare exercise in true existential terror.  The actors do yeoman’s work selling the tremendous fear of the situation, as most of the “gore” takes place under the surface, unseen.  As a fan of excessively bloody cinema, The Reef comes as a welcome reminder that what you can imagine is often more terrifying than what you can see.

Fantastic, frightening film, one of 2011′s best thus far.

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