Sunday, January 16, 2011

DVD Review - The Reef

The Film

The setup for The Reef couldn't be more straightforward. Four friends find themselves stranded off the Australian coast when their boat capsizes, and as they attempt to swim towards land a great white shark stalks their movements, picking them off one by one. They might be simple ingredients, but that's all writer/director Andrew Traucki needs to construct an unnerving and gripping thriller. Traucki doesn't waste much time on developing his characters. Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) and Kate (Zoe Naylor) have an on-off relationship to play with, but the other couple, Matt (Gyton Grantley) and Suzie (Adrienne Pickering), barely have any distinguishing or memorable traits. It doesn't really matter, though; Traucki knows as well as we do that these people exist primarily as bait.

The Reef only really gets into its stride when its cast gets in the water, but when that happens (their boat having been damaged and upturned) the film slowly develops into a thoroughly absorbing experience. Traucki is smart enough to keep the shark out of sight for as long as possible, and much of the tension in the film's opening half is developed through the group's fear of what might be joining them in the water, as they hear suggestive splashes in their vicinity or think they see something breaking the surface nearby. The director skilfully exploits their anxiety and allows more than 45 minutes to elapse before he actually gives us our first glimpse of the creature hunting them down. After that, it's simply a matter of anticipating who's going to be next on the shark's menu, and the lack of big names among the cast list certainly keeps us guessing in that regard.

Throughout The Reef, I was constantly reminded of two other movies: Jaws and Open Water. That the film fails to live up to Spielberg's masterpiece is hardly a surprise, and not really something we should criticise it for, but it is a markedly superior picture to Open Water, with which it bears strong similarities. The Reef's success is almost entirely down to Traucki, whose manipulation of the tension and ability to keep the film moving is hugely impressive. Aided tremendously by Peter Crombie's sharp editing and Rafael May's suspenseful score, Traucki has put together a taut and efficient thriller, wringing every ounce of excitement from his slight premise.

The Extras

Aside from a trailer, the only extra feature on The Reef disc is a short "making of" entitled Shooting with Sharks. This extra tries to encompass various aspects of the film's production in just 24 minutes, leaving it feeling a little shallow and unfocused, but there is some interesting material here. Unsurprisingly, the most intriguing footage involves the sharks themselves (one of whom very nearly eats the camera filming it), and I would have liked to have had more background detail on what must have been a logistical nightmare of a production.

The Reef is released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 24th

Buy The Reef here