Image Entertainment // 2010 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 19th, 2011
Pray that you drown first.
On a routine delivery through Australia's Great Barrier Reef, five friends are about to learn the definition of fear as they attempt to outsmart and outmaneuver one of nature's oldest and deadliest predators: sharks! When Luke (Damien Walsh-Howling) finds his boat capsized by submerged rocks, he and four of his friends (Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering, Zoe Naylor, Kieran Darcy-Smith) are suddenly adrift at sea without any hope of an expedient rescue. The idea is proposed to swim twelve miles to an island for safety, but their survival skills are stretched to the limit when man eating sharks suddenly enter into the picture!
To look at the cover of The Reef you would assume one of two things. The first would be that this is a chintzy, fourth rate B-movie from a studio cashing in on every other killer shark movie made in the past decade, especially the upcoming big budget thriller Shark Night 3D (which, by the way, looks flippin' awesome...but I digress). The second would be that this is one of those Roger Corman produced Syfy station clunkers about various slimy, horrible monsters/reptiles/mutations/hybrids that battle each other under a San Francisco bridge. The good news is you'd be wrong on both counts: The Reef is a small but tightly tuned thriller that gets the job done when it comes to killer sharks and fleshy bodies floating around in the water.
The Reef is one of those movies that is scary not because it's well constructed (although it's put together well) and not because it uses music to maximum effect (although that's not bad, either). No, The Reef is scary because it drops you into a situation that, even in the hands of Ed Wood or Uwe Boll, would make you crap your pants on a Sunday in the middle of a rainstorm. It's pretty hard to screw up throwing sane, competent adults into the middle of the ocean with mindless eating machines.
I'm sure you all remember the movie Open Water from a few years ago. The Reef essentially cribs the same idea and tweaks the plot every so slightly (instead of divers being left behind from a scuba trip, young people are out on a boat that capsizes) and -- voila! -- you get essentially the same movie. It would be easy to chastise The Reef for being a blatant rip off of Open Water, but the fact is the movie works well even if it's a cookie cutter version of that slightly superior film. There are moments in The Reef of undeniable dread that arrive from very simple fears. Director Andrew Traucki (who also helmed the real life giant crocodile movie Blackwater, unseen by me) has a sparse style that works for this kind of movie -- you truly believe these characters are in the middle of the ocean even if, most likely, the film crew is standing in the shallows only a few feet away.
To review the acting seems quite superfluous; what is required is given (crying, screaming, looks of utter terror) by all of the actors in spades. Not much else is needed. Whenever I see a movie like The Reef I always think the actors are given a thankless job. Their main goal is to try and survive so it's short on back stories (save for a few moments of romance between a couple of the characters) and long on look of knowing horror. It's to their credit that while I couldn't remember the character names during the movie, I most certainly didn't want to see them get eaten alive (well, maybe just a little bit...).
A movie like The Reef is story basics stripped down to its essentials; characters need to get from point A to point B before becoming nature's buffet. If you're looking for a complex weaving of the human spirit The Reef isn't going to impress. If, however, you'd like to see a bunch of people try to outmaneuver killer fish in the middle of the sea, The Reef sails past most of the competition.
The Reef is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen in 1080p resolution. This is a very good looking image that has sharp colors and a very crisp picture. Much of the film takes place outdoors on the open sea and the bright blues of both the open ocean and the clear skies make for a vibrant, often brightly lit picture. No noticeable defects can be seen during the film's runtime. Overall Image Entertainment has done a very fine job with this transfer.
The soundtrack is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and, while adequate to the film, doesn't leave a lot to be desired in the way of giving your sound system a hearty workout. There are some sporadic moments when the rear and front speakers kick in to give the viewer a nice surround sound feel -- mainly during the shark attacks -- but this is a mostly front heavy sound mix filled with moments of ambient sound (and some scary music). Also included on this disc are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
There is little in the way of extra features on The Reef. All viewers get is a fairly short making-of featurette titled "Shooting with Sharks" which has some talking head interviews with the cast and the crew, behind-the-scenes footage and other EPK materials you'd find on typical promo pieces.
One final note: I wouldn't call The Reef a kid's movie by any stretch of the imagination, but if you have pre-teens who can handle suspense (and some salty language), this is a perfect Friday night rental. There is no gore and the blood is kept to a bare minimum. The filmmakers have gone out of their way to win the audience over with style over substance and thrills over violence.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R