The Reef (2010) – Movie Review

The Reef (2010) – Movie ReviewWith so many nasties lurking in such varied and often extreme environments, Australia is a great place to set an animal attack horror film. And The Reef is indeed a great addition to the genre and the long tradition of Australian horror cinema. Maybe not so good, however for Queensland tourism.

The Reef starts with a small group of five – Matt (Gyton Grantley) and Kate (Zoe Naylor), brother and sister; Suzie (Adrienne Pickering), Matt’s girlfriend; Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling), Kate’s ex and Matt’s friend; and Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith), Luke’s friend and local fisherman – embarking on a boat holiday around The Great Barrier Reef.

We’ve got water, we’ve got seclusion, we’ve got characters preoccupied with their own relationships, and we’ve got a great big shark. It’s a tried and tested combination that could have so easily gone into predictable and cliché but remains fresh and thrilling to the end.

~mild spoilers – ending not discussed in detail~

Of course, sitting down to watch The Reef, one knows the shark is inevitable but even so, the finest part of the film is the revelation of the beast. Early on, we see an array of shark jaws displayed on the walls of the boat shop, all teeth and power and all from sharks caught in local waters. It’s a perfect set up to have lingering in the background as the characters set out on their vacation. It’s around the halfway point we actually meet the shark. By then other catastrophes are working against the characters and the Great White is just an insult to injury – OK, a REALLY big insult.  With a long series of underwater shots, we just sit and wait for that dark shadow to loom from the depths, or that fin to appear. We wait and wait until the tension is almost unbearable. And then when the nasty does appear, it’s still just a tease until the real gorefest begins.

Faced with a capsized and sinking boat in dangerous and isolated waters, the characters need to make a choice – face the very real inevitability of the boat sinking, or swim to the closest land, an island about ten miles away and face the very real probability of sharks.  Four take the swim, while Warren who’s all too aware of the reality of sharks in the area stays with the boat. Now it’s just a matter of who dies first, be it from drowning, thirst, or shark.

The psychology of the swimmers is nicely played out both as they’re swimming along, and then as they’re stalked by the shark.  They struggle with their physical and mental fatigue, they struggle against each other, and of course struggle against the wilds they’re at the mercy of.
It would have been good to see more of Warren left behind on the boat, but that he fades out of the story does add a tragic touch to the story, one that fits well with the ending.  The ending did seem a little abrupt, but really the story was finished and there was nothing else that needed to happen.

The film is apparently based on a true story, and although there’s nothing definite around that confirms this claim, The Reef is still a quite believable tale of horror.

The small cast of reasonably well known Australian actors is a fine ensemble of acting talent. All too often in animal attack films the characters are either unbelievably brave or unbelievable weak, compounded by poor acting.  The Reef had none of this. Some of the dialogue was a little hokey, but this was overshadowed by the awesome effect of building tension.   Some of the hand held camera work, particularly with scenes rolling about on the water, won’t please some viewers (myself being one of them), but the technique is used only for a few brief moments. Any longer and it may have been unwatchable.

The Reef is different to Jaws in plot and the type of horror at play, the type of characters, and situations, but sincerely, there’s nothing that prevents this being at least as good a shark movie as Jaws. The Reef is a far more accomplished film than Shark Night on a whole range of levels. Had I seen this movie sooner, it would have undoubtedly got a mention in my recent Top 5 Animal Attack Horror Movies list.

Definitely watch this for not only a great example of the animal attack genre, but also a great piece of Australian film.  Just don’t go swimming afterwards.


Kate Krake

Kate Krake (aka Kate Murphy) is a writer with a long established passion for all realms of popular culture. She lives in Brisbane, Australia. Find out more on Kate's Blog.