I hate sharks. I just want to make that clear from the outset. Of all the memorable screen villains created over the years, the mere suggestion of shark bait is enough to get me running. Or should that be wallowing? Even Deep Blue Sea - Renny Harlin’s unintentionally hilarious action thriller - managed to scare the crap out of me. I hate sharks. It’s as simple as that.
Andrew Traucki sticks to what he knows best with his second water based feature, not to be confused with the Freddie Prinze Jr. voiced animated effort. That was a whole different kind of scary. The Australian swamps of Black Water are replaced by the Great Barrier Reef, and our hapless victims are stalked not by a killer crocodile, but by a rather impressive white pointer shark.
Four backpackers set out on a week’s holiday, sailing the Great Barrier Reef on their own yacht. When their boat capsizes - leaving them stranded on a damaged and overturned hull - they must make one simple decision. Stay with a sinking ship likely to submerge at any moment, or try to swim for dry land.
It’s a straightforward premise, milked for all its worth by director Andrew Traucki. Taking to the water, the group of friends close in on land, but when a giant fin breaks the surface, realisation strikes a penetrating blow, and a deadly fourteen-foot shark stalks the four friends. Maybe they should have stayed with the boat after all.
Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering and Zoe Naylor are the actors charged with swimming and screaming in equal measures, while Kieran Darcy-Smith makes up the numbers back on the upturned boat. It’s a small cast, made up of relative unknowns, but Adrienne Pickering is probably best known for appearances in both Nicolas Cage’s Knowing and the Hollywood remake of Thai horror Shutter.
Open Water immediately springs to mind when tackling Traucki’s survival thriller The Reef, such is the familiarity as the drama unfolds. The two water based horrors share an almost identical approach, but in truth, it’s hard to imagine where else the filmmakers could have gone with a concept like this. The four protagonists are introduced in the film’s opening act, and there’s obvious history, not to mention sexual chemistry between Captain Luke and shipmate Kate.
It’s a relationship that could have been explored later on, after the initial hugs and puppies turn to bitterness and blame, but any such depth is saved for the deep water they’re about to find themselves in. Character development is dropped in favour of impending doom, as Captain Luke is called upon time and time again to don his goggles and make sure everybody is safe.
The thing with impending doom is that it always leads somewhere. Open Water failed to capitalise on the tension it created in the opening act and became a film best remembered for wallowing. Any suggestion of relentless paddling in The Reef is scuppered as soon as the star of the show makes its first appearance. Credit to Andrew Traucki for not resorting to dodgy CGI or cumbersome animatronics, the fourteen-foot white pointer shark is a threatening presence throughout, used sparingly but all too effectively.
The films lacks punch when it comes to character development, but there’s no denying the power of the shark attacks. Brief, to the point and incredibly realistic, The Reef raises its game every time the old sea dog barks back. Andrew Traucki should be applauded for the fearsome predator he’s created here, but not for the one-dimensional characters we’re expected to root for. Where's the power struggle, the confrontation, the depth and emotion? The order in which the cast member’s die is the only true surprise the script has to offer. One of the characters doesn’t even get a decent death scene. Talk about being left all at sea.
The characters rarely make a splash, and the screenplay almost sinks the movie, but Traucki’s chief villain is on hand to deliver a killer breakthrough. He’ll breakthrough just about anything to get your attention, and by the way, I still hate sharks. In case you were wondering. AW