'The Reef' Movie Review


It made a decent amount of noise back when it played the festival circuit, and then a little more once it played to audiences, but the admirably intense Open Water doesn't seem to get a lot of attention these days. Some may have been turned off by the indie thriller's slow-burn approach to what could have been a simplistic Jaws retread, but the movie still holds up surprisingly well -- and the DVD also comes with a halfway-watchable semi-sequel called Adrift, so there's an added bonus for you. Open Water came to mind -- several times -- during the recent Australian import called The Reef.

Boasting a "based on actual events" pedigree, The Reef treads much of the same H20 that Open Water did, but earns points for setting up some very well-earned moments of suspense of its own. It's the story of five grown-up non-idiots who head out on a yacht, suffer through a horrific accident that capsizes their vessel, and must then decide if their best bet is to A) drift off to the ocean on the back of a broken ship, or B) swim for an island that's "only" about ten miles away. Four of the folks hit the water; only one opts to stay behind.

How much of the scary tale is truly based on fact ... I have no idea. But I can assert that director Andrew Traucki (of the also-impressive killer croc flick Black Water) is more interested in setting up a few characters you can relate to before dumping them into the predictably shark-infested waters off the coast of Australia. If a few of the character moments are a bit too obvious -- the leads are an estranged couple, of course, who must reconcile before they can survive -- they can be overlooked because the attempt is legitimate. This is not a "toss 'em in the ocean and watch 'em get chomped" sort of shark attack movie, but a low-key and quietly intense indie that poses the same questions put forth by Open Water and (of course) Jaws: what would you do if you were left floating in the ocean with one of our most primordially horrifying predators ten feet away?

There's a reason we keep going back to the shark attack movies -- the bad ones outnumber the good ones by a distressing margin -- and The Reef offers a juicy reminder as to why we're so fascinated by these majestic monsters of the deep. Bonus points awarded for some very fine cinematography, an exceedingly strong quartet of actors, and a few moments of punch-in-the-gut shark horror that you won't see coming. What The Reef may lack in flashy effects or rock 'em sock 'em horror beats, it makes up for in simple, crafty, sharp suspense. And from a sub-genre that generally offers titles like Shark Attack 3, Dinoshark, and Sharktopus, a slick little import like The Reef is highly welcome indeed.

Read FEARnet's partner reviews for 'The Reef'.