Based on true events, The Reef tells the tale of a sailing holiday that next to no-one would want to be a part of; where four friends, and an experienced fisherman, head out along the Australian coast, before their boat capsizes, and they’re left with a life-or-death choice; sit on top of the boat that is drifting out to sea and could sink at any moment, waiting to be rescued, or swim to a nearby island they think lies roughly north, and hope is only about 10 miles away, through shark-infested waters.
As with any movie of this type, The Reef begins by introducing the characters; and setting up a couple of relationships in the hope that it will convince viewers to care for them when the inevitable hard times strike; Damian Walshe-Howling (Insignia) leads the troupe as sailing expert Luke; who’s ex-girlfriend Kate (Zoe Naylor, McLeod’s Daughter’s) and two friends Matt (Gyton Grantley, Beneath Hill 60) and Suzie (Adrienne Pickering, Knowing), complete the holidaying gang, and are left feeling like fish out of water when their boat capsizes.
Fearing what lies beneath the swell of the ocean, experienced fisherman Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith, The Cave) decides to stay on the boat and hope that help will find him, whilst the others venture out into the unknown sea, facing exhaustion, dehydration, and before long, the razor-sharp teeth of a great white shark; who appears to be stalking them.
The majority of the film is then spent watching the four hapless swimmers bobbing up and down in the ocean, getting slightly tired, and panicking whenever they see, or think they see, movement in the water; and while the events of The Reef are all based upon true events, and make for a truly scary and harrowing story of survival, they’re all too predictable, and actually appear quite dull.
One of the main problems with The Reef is its predictability; as the acting is average, but suitably adequate for the genre, and the special effects look amazing for the most part, but it feels as though it’s just another movie re-treading the same old water that’s been churned up, swam through, and plastered with human remains, for years; being overtly reminiscent of both Jaws, and Open Water, and offering nothing that those two films haven’t offered before.
The Reef is more enjoyable than Open Water, but lacks the tension that a survival/horror picture should have; mainly because it’s a film where the main characters appear to stay in the same place for an unending amount of time (because the ocean all looks the same), and you find yourself simply waiting for them to get picked off, so as to end their incessant whining; a problem that was totally absent in the chilling survival/horror Frozen, which unlike The Reef, presented characters you could care about and believe in, and will to survive.
You know what you’re getting with The Reef; and hour-and-a-half of swimming, interrupted by the odd glimpse of a great white, a couple of deaths, and a bit of screaming; and to be fair it delivers everything it promises (there’s plenty of water, and the shark scenes look better than you’d expect), but fails to leave a lasting impression thanks to the surprising lack of tension, and generally neutral feeling it leaves you with.
Like the film itself, The Reef’s picture quality is extremely bland; accentuating its low budget nature; having adequate levels of detail, and natural looking skin-tones, whilst simultaneously looking bland and washed out, being covered by an excessively high level of grain, having several instances of visible artifacting, and blacks that look decidedly grey; making it adequate for the movie, and watchable, but far from deserving of praise.
Similarly in quality to the picture, is The Reef’s 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack; which contains crisp and clear dialogue that’s always easy intelligible and well anchored in the front and center channels, yet features fairly weak and infrequent bass, and almost no use of the surround channels (which would have been perfectly placed to provide the ambient sounds of the vast ocean surrounding the film’s subjects, and are very under used during the shark attacks, and scene where the boat capsizes); making it again adequate, but far from memorable, and not in the least bit impressive.
As with most low budget productions, The Reef doesn’t come to DVD with an abundance of special features; as it features only a trailer for the film, and a 23 minute making of featurette; however the making of is stronger than that of many big Hollywood blockbusters; featuring behind the scenes footage, candid clips, discussions of the story, characters, post production, and music, as well as filming in the water, using real sharks, and giving cast members personal shark stories; and while the heavily praise laden sections may become a little dull, the shark sections are certainly interesting, and bound to please any fan of the film.
The Bottom Line:
In the end The Reef is everything you’d expect from a low-budget survival/horror, and delivers everything it should; a perilous situation that no viewer would want to find themselves in, life-or-death decisions, and the gruesome deaths of some major characters; however it fails to resonate on any level, simply because it’s all been done before, and often with more tension and fear than The Reef manages to evoke.
The picture quality is fairly poor, but watchable, the audio is distinctly average (making surprisingly little use of the surround channels), and there are few bonus features making the DVD a must buy (however the making of featurette is a decent enough watch, and should please The Reef’s fans), although the disc simply serves its purpose (by providing fans with a way to watch the film), and fails to impress.
If you’re a fan of Open Water you’ll love The Reef, but if you’re in the more ‘take it or leave it’ camp, it might be worth giving The Reef a rent; as it’s a decent enough Sunday afternoon film, but has zero re-watchability, and is almost instantly forgettable. If you’re after a tense shark film re-watch Jaws, if you want a modern survival horror then go for Frozen, or for a really harrowing true tale of survival watch The Way Back; The Reef’s there if there’s nothing better available, but it’d never come top of the pile.