The Reef (2010)

Director: Andrew Traucki

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.

Credit: Trespass Magazine
Credit: Trespass Magazine

The Great Gatsby (2013)


Director: Baz Luhrmann

Release Date: May 10th, 2013 (US); May 16th, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Drama; Romance

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire

As Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character, Jay Gatsby, a very wealthy-yet-mysterious man seeking to rekindle his relationship with the woman he has loved for years, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). The story is narrated by war veteran Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who recalls his life living next door to Gatsby whose parties — attended by those from all over the country and overflowing with alcohol, entertainers and fireworks — are products of the Roaring Twenties, where the stock markets on Wall Street were booming and morale was at an all-time high post-World War I.

The Great Gatsby, or more aptly, ‘The Very Good Gatsby’, has Baz Luhrmann’s influence etched all over it, which by no means is a bad thing. Luhrmann, who had previously worked with DiCaprio on Romeo + Juliet, and whose recent directorial credits have included historical epic Australia and the extravagant Moulin Rouge!, certainly knows how to put on show — and more than anything else, The Great Gatsby is a spectacle. Everything from the acting to the set pieces to the costume design to the cinematography is set to full throttle here, as Luhrmann shows no restraint in his direction. And it needs to be this way: the man whose life the film centres on is an over-the-top, charismatic individual and therefore a film without extravagance would not have worked as well. Luhrmann puts the “Great” in The Great Gatsby, because had this film been anything different, it would probably have just been “Gatsby”.

“Jay Gatsby sure is tall.”

At a fairly substantial two hours and 20 minutes (or so) long, The Great Gatsby never really seems to let the pace drop which is a credit to Luhrmann and the writers, as too many lulls in the proceedings would have turned the film into a less-than-dramatic portrayal of a wealthy individual’s life. Personally, I feel that between the half hour and hour mark, there were a few extra-long party scenes which may have benefited from being trimmed down a little, but as I mentioned beforehand this may have taken a snippet of the excessive nature of the film away, a nature which The Great Gatsby relies on to be a success. The difference between, for example, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (which, do not get me wrong, I enjoyed a lot) and The Great Gatsby is that just about every scene Luhrmann directs in Gatsby fulfils a necessary purpose in the plot, whereas An Unexpected Journey includes scenes which are, though entertaining, completely unneeded.

Since last working with Baz Luhrmann on Romeo + Juliet, Leonardo DiCaprio has moulded himself into one of the best actors in Hollywood at present (the best, for my money) and delivers another convincing, flamboyant performance as Jay Gatsby — a man who, on the exterior seems to have it all and lives the picturesque, glamorous life, whereas on the inside is broken and partially empty without the woman he has missed for five years. The mystique surrounding Gatsby during the first twenty minutes to half an hour of the film is very well executed, as he is a man seldom seen but mentioned very often, and spoke about with passion and awe. Tobey Maguire does a fine job carrying the film throughout the opening half hour or so, however as soon as DiCaprio arrives on the screen the film appears to move up another level (if that is even possible in a Baz Luhrmann offering). DiCaprio exudes importance and slickness as Gatsby and, as someone who has never read the book, completely sold me on the character. Tobey Maguire narrates the film very effectively and his voice never seems to make the film drag at any point. His on-screen acting is solid, much like it normally is, with himself and DiCaprio developing an intriguing dynamic throughout the piece (it is cool to see the two share the big screen together, having been very close friends since the early nineties). Carey Mulligan is elegance personified, balancing the correct amount of strength and frailty between her scenes with Gatsby and her husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton — who is part of a very strong supporting cast boasting the likes of Isla Fisher).

“Good day, old spore.” “For the hundredth time it’s ‘sport’ – not ‘spore’!”

Much has been said about the modern soundtrack to the film which contains the likes of Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Lana Del Ray. Personally, I did not see a problem with it, in fact it gave The Great Gatsby an extra oomph which 1920s music would more than likely have withheld from offering. Although the film is set over ninety years ago, Luhrmann’s narrative provides modernity and the cinematography creates a classic-yet-fresh vibe throughout. The costume design harks back to the Roaring Twenties (I remember them well) without making the characters look outdated, and this is down to the bright colours — that pink suit Gatsby is wearing is a show-stealer — and the intricate details of each piece of clothing. The set design throughout the film is to the highest standard which helps to create that party atmosphere associated with Gatsby — by contrast, the Valley of Ashes (an industrial works situated between New York City and Long Island) has all the grit, sweat and coal required to reinforce that everything must begin from the bottom and work its way up, echoing the life of Gatsby.

Without giving any spoilers away (yes, there will be people who know nothing about with plot — much like myself beforehand), in a film where hope appears to dwindle throughout — and I stress ‘appears’ — the final few scenes were very well delivered in my eyes, with Tobey Maguire’s narration concluding the film in a seamless manner. The very philosophical final few moments essentially provide the basis for what has gone on throughout the film, which, at heart, is much more about desire and soul than extravagance and dazzling lights.

“Think we get to keep the car?”

One criticism which I do have is that, on a few occasions, the editing seems a touch off (when Gatsby and Carraway are in the car), but this is more of an annoyance than a significant error. Overall, in regards to such criticism as the film prefers style over substance, I do not believe this to be the case and that the substance is in there, just not always as apparent due to the overload of style. For rather than meaning the style completely overawes the substance, it signals that Luhrmann has done a tremendous job in creating a mysterious and distant Gatsby on the outside, who has bolted up his emotion on the inside — much like Gatsby is looking to rediscover that emotion he has long withheld since losing Daisy, the viewer must find the substance in the film for themselves.

Baz Luhrmann has been vindicated in summoning another Gatsby out of the ashes, as The Great Gatsby is a well-directed mesh of extravagance, emotion and booming life throughout the 1920s, all patched together triumphantly by way off Tobey Maguire’s narration as Nick Carraway, and wonderfully acted at the hands of the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio.