By: Matt Clark (A Toast) –
What happens when you make a shark horror film that doesn’t include crappy CGI and bad acting? Answer: a pretty damn good movie.
Unfortunately shark films have been given a bad rap over the years, mainly thanks to the trash that SyFy seems to put out every month as their “sci-fi originals.” As for the shark horror genre, it really can’t be unique as you usually only have two avenues when making a shark film. You can have the shark go where most sharks do not go (Jaws is a great example), or you can have people stuck in the middle of the ocean, in shark territory (Open Water). This film takes the latter tack, which makes it that much more thrilling and tension building.
What is possibly the scariest aspect of the film is that this movie is based on a true story of four people whose boat capsized after they hit a reef and were then forced to swim for land. The film also plays out like this. After a fun-filled sailing trip goes wrong when their boat hits a reef, four friends are forced to make a choice. Either wait it out on the sinking boat (which is being pulled further and further out into the ocean and away from land), or swim the ten miles or so to the last place that land was seen.
This is certainly familiar to those who have seen Open Water, but instead of a dozen small sharks, we are introduced to one, very big, Great White, making it more of a survival terror film than Open Water.
Nearly as scary as the true story element is the constant buildup to the reveal of the hungry shark, as you don’t know when he/she will be shown and the movie does a terrific job of keeping you guessing and building up the suspense. And these suspenseful scenes mostly work. Our director seems to have a good grasp on how to make the situation of being stranded in the middle of the ocean even scarier. Shock scenes like having the shark’s fin break the water, not knowing when or who it is going to attack next, make watching it a bit terrifying. There is one particular early shark scene that worked extremely well, no major spoilers though, but it nearly made me piss myself. And no, it doesn’t involve a person, but an innocent swimming board.
No CGI as you can see. Just a very scary shark.
Best of all, perhaps, is the lack of CGI that seems to be nearly a staple with shark horror films nowadays. Even films that make it to theaters – like Shark Night, use the dreaded CGI for their shark creation. Thankfully, The Reef doesn’t have a hint of CGI, making it even more entertaining and the shark even more intimidating. Seriously, who is terrified of a CGI shark?
Nope, this is a film that is filmed with real 15 foot Great White sharks. Having a real Great White, instead of a “scary” CGI beast reminds you who the true rulers of the ocean are. And no, it’s not our four Aussies who are reminiscent of four, fat, defenseless sea lions waiting to be taken away into the deep.
The film being masterfully shot and cleverly directed, never loses its tension (which is one of its high points), or its believability. You are scared for the characters, a feeling which is only compounded by this being based on a true story. Our main trio (I say trio for a reason, hint: someone dies pretty early, and in a pretty dumb way) do a great job of carrying the movie and make you root for them and want them to survive.
Caution. If you plan on taking a drink every time one of the girls screams or cries, you may get alcohol poisoning.
The film has a few minor faults of course, mostly that the distressed splashing around in the water when the shark is revealed was a bit annoying. Best way to get eaten by a curious shark that doesn’t know what you are? Flap around like a distressed fish, alerting big white that you are a viable food option. These people are Aussies, they should know these things.
After being consistently disappointed with many of the downright stupid shark horror films that have been crapped out (Sharknado, Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus, Two-Headed Shark Attack, Shark Night, Sand Sharks, Ghost Shark, Ghost Shark 2, Sharktopus, Jersey Shore Shark Attack, Malibu Shark Attack, Mega Shark vs Mecha Shark, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, ok, I think you get the point) The Reef is a breath of fresh air from the constant CGI nonsense, stock footage, and ridiculous plots that are used for shark films these days.
Take a Drink: whenever one of the girls screams or cries.
Take a Drink: whenever one of our characters flails around in the ocean like a distressed fish.
Take a Drink: whenever you see a non-CGI shark.
Take a Drink: whenever another sea creature is mistaken for the shark.
Do a Shot: every time an Aussie gets eaten.