'The Reef' Movie Review

The Reef Movie
by Jason Lees, MoreHorror.com

First off, and I’m sure this has been said a lot, it’s not fair to compare “The Reef” to “Jaws.” Just because both films use the great white shark as the focus of their horror doesn’t mean that they swim in the same waters.

“The Reef” is sharp, precise filmmaking, which knows exactly what it wants to do and goes after its audience with a determination to scare and unsettle. It never cheats or goes for the cheap scare (well, maybe once at the beginning) and spends more time developing its characters than any film I’ve seen in a long time. And “Jaws” is… well, it’s “Jaws.”

Comparing the two makes the blockbuster seem like a bully and the indie flick look like a copycat. Neither is true. People don’t accuse every cop movie of ripping off “The French Connection” just because of the genre similarities, and no one knocks every current gross out comedy for aping “Animal House,” so let’s put that tired complaint to bed. Now, having said that, yea, “The Reef” is not “Jaws.” Nor is it supposed to be. It’s also not “Open Water,” but that’s a rant for another day.

What “The Reef” really is, is about the most realistic portrayal I’ve seen yet of being attacked by a shark while floating around lost at sea. And while that’s its greatest strength, it’s also its greatest fault as well.

“The Reef” is a slow build, following its characters as they set out on a sort of working vacation to deliver a yacht but wind up sitting aboard a sinking boat. The now stranded Aussies decide to swim for it, to try and make land before the elements take them. The problem is, after floating for a few days, they find themselves being nipped at by a curious great white. Sound familiar?

The difference here is that the floating cast is more than just a menu for the shark, they’re living breathing people. When the shark comes for them, one by one, you feel loss when a character gets ripped from the group, and that’s no easy feat for a film whose plot points are clearly able to be anticipated by almost anyone watching. (Really, there’s not many ways you can surprise an audience in a movie like this.) Unlike a lot of “Final Destination” type flicks, you don’t root for the people to die here. No, you want them to swim faster, no matter how hopeless you know it is.

That lack of surprise and utter realism is a double barb against the film. Sure, it’s honest and brutal, but at the same time, it doesn’t make for great drama. The slow build, which is great to establish the world we’re peaking at, is also a sure fire way to put an audience off as far as pacing goes. Yes, we know the characters really well by the time the shark shows up, and we feel for them as that fin gets closer and closer, but at the same time, I can only tread water so long myself. I was never really bored, but there were times I just wished the shark would digest a little bit faster and come back for more.

As a fan of nature gone awry films, I’m glad I picked up “The Reef” and I’m pretty sure it has some repeat viewing ahead for me, but if you want your movies about toothy gnarly fish to be rousing crowd pleasers, then maybe sea faring cinema didn’t escape the 70’s for you. For me, I love “Jaws” and I drop it into the dvd player at least a couple of times per year, but it’s tight little flicks THE REEF that keep the sub-genre alive for me.

Now, where did I stick my copy of “Orca”? Summer’s almost over and I need some more bloody ocean fun.

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