Release Date: March 17th, 2011 (Australia)
Genre: Horror; Thriller
Starring: Damian Walsh-Howling, Zoe Naylor, Adrienne Pickering, Gyton Grantley
For an Australian horror outing that garnered over $25 million dollars at the box office (from a $1 million budget) and that has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 78%, The Reef grandiosely fails to deliver. Restrained by unconvincing acting and an uninspired narrative, The Reef plods along at a less than satisfactory pace and does not offer anything that the audience has never seen before.
The film is apparently based on a true story although does not play up this aspect when perhaps it should have — doing so may have at least added a smidgen of drama. Essentially, four individuals who are related to each other in a variety of ways (brothers, sisters, girlfriends, boyfriends etc.) join a sailor on a journey out into the ocean. However, during their escapade across the sea, their sailboat hits some underlying rocks and capsizes, leaving the five companions in an unhealthy predicament.
The premise in itself should be enough to conjure up a decibel or two of tension, but by the time the boat crash happens the film has already hit rock bottom. The Reef is hampered by poor dialogue, which admittedly improves as the film progresses (although an improvement on excruciating is not exactly an improvement). The opening 20 minutes consists of the five characters exchanging awkward sound bites with one another — what happened to proper sentences? Many of the early exchanges come across as improvised, which generally is not necessarily a negative, but does not work as intended here. This lacklustre beginning to the film does not benefit the characters in any way, introducing them without any meaning or depth. The Reef is billed as a horror film, and one of the key elements assigned to any efficient horror film — or just any film — should be developing characters that the audience care about. The Reef does not do that and this is the driving force behind the film’s lack of tension and emotional involvement early on.
And that is just the first twenty minutes. After the group’s sailboat gets into some hot water (loving these ocean-related puns) and capsizes, the immediate collective reaction of the five characters is… nothing. There is no urgency. In the middle of the sea, with no drinkable water, no edible food and the only method of transport now upside down with a gaping hole on its underbelly, the five characters do not really seem that bothered. There are no hysterics, there is very little emotion, even a distinct lack of tears. Of course, if any one of the characters had a working mobile phone then it would make sense for all of those previous traits not to be applicable, but all mobile phones are floating in the sea by this point. The lack of immediate panic does not make sense — it is far from realistic — and takes the viewer out of the film when a bout of instant emotion would engross the audience further into the piece.
Another problem The Reef meanders into is a fairly confusing one, but one which certainly exists. Before the quintet sail into any danger, they make a short stop at a small island. When the group set foot on the island, they essentially do absolutely nothing apart from lie on a beach for an inconsequential period of time. The confusing element of this plot point (that is, the island stoppage) is just that — it is unclear if the island is a significant plot point, or if it is just there to waste another five minutes. When the group find themselves stranded at sea, they debate whether or not to swim to a place called Turtle Island. It is unclear whether or not Turtle Island is the small island they previously went ashore on, or if it is another island which one of the characters (the one who knows how to find North by using the sun and his watch) is aware of. If it is the former, then the earlier short stint on Turtle Island begins to feel too manufactured — as if the only reason the characters set foot on it was in order to establish a narrative ploy to be referred back to when disaster strikes. This is far too obvious, thus it would have improved the legitimacy of events if something meaningful happened when the group first disembarked on the island. On the flip side, if Turtle Island is not in fact the island that the characters are debating about swimming to, then their presence on the random island near the beginning of the trip is utterly unwarranted.
It should be noted that there are sharks, but by the time they arrive The Reef has already set sail to a point of no return. To the film’s credit however, the sharks are real and are not CGI, which does add a little apprehension to proceedings. As the sharks arrive, so too does a sense of panic (finally) amongst the characters, but unfortunately the timid dialogue remains for the most part. Admittedly there is a slight improvement as aforementioned, but the improvement is not enough and in earnest the damage has already been done. The final scenes of The Reef are also extremely anticlimactic, in accordance with everything else which has gone before.
Much like a sinking ship, The Reef sees the danger early on and does nothing to avoid it, as a result becoming a flailing, hapless vessel devoid of life, energy or the ability to rise from the depths and redeem itself.
Jaws can rest easy.