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Style Magazine

Film Review: The Reef

Jul 24, 2011 04:08AM ● By Wendy Sipple

Luke leads a group of friends, Matt, Suzie, and Kate with the help of a local fisherman named Warren to a hidden reef for a weekend of scuba diving and relaxation. The reef is located off the coast of Australia, an area known for its high population of great white sharks. On their return home the tide recedes and the boat hits bottom and capsizes. This leaves the unlucky group on the top of an overturned boat being pulled out to sea with the decision to stay on the boat and hope that help finds them or swim 10 miles to shore.

The Reef is a very well made low budget movie. The production values are uncommonly high and I would contend that the shark effects and compositing are bar none the most convincing I have seen put to film. The story line of a group of people stuck floating in the middle of the ocean while being picked off by sharks has been done before in a film titled Open Water. However, The Reef succeeds in so many areas that Open Water failed it is hardly fair to compare the two.
The Reef does several things right on the story front that makes the ending effective. Chief among those things is it has compelling and likable characters, which is a rare find in a horror movie. Luke played by Australian actor Damian Walshe-Howling is quite believable in the lead role. The other supporting actors are strong in their parts too. I liked how the characters handled their situation, both when the boat capsizes and when the shark attacks. The movie avoided the constant screaming and instead opted for a more reserved and realistic reaction to the events taking place. Warren, the fisherman, gave one of the best lines in the film when the other four people opted to swim for land instead of remain on the boat as he said, “I’m not going in those waters, I fish here, I know what’s in there”.
Forcing the characters on the boat to make the impossible decision of either remaining on a wrecked ship being pulled out to see or making a long swim in shark infested waters was a great story device. This decision is the best part of the film as it gives the audience a chance to ask themselves what would they do in a situation like that. It would not be an easy decision to make.
Writer/director Andrew Traucki really knows how to crank up the tension. His choice of camera angles and pacing worked very well in building the anticipation for the inevitable. It’s abundantly clear he has a talent for setting a good thriller. His best decision bar none though was to composite real shark footage instead of going with CGI or mechanical sharks. The results in this film are amazing! The scenes with the actors and the shark in the same frame looks flawless and truly authentic. The scenes with the shark in this film blow away anything the big budgeted Hollywood films have produced outside of Jaws.
Although the shark effects were incredible I think the budget and the limitations of the compositing decreased his ability to diversify the shark attacks. The attack scenes seemed to repeat. There was room to create more drama and horror by elongating the attacks and mixing up how the attacks played out each time. The Reef also claims to be based on a true story, but from what I can find I think it would be more accurate to say ”loosely” based on true events.
If you are fan of low budget shark movies you won’t find a better film than this. It’s everything Open Water promised to be but wasn’t. It delivers on the tension, horror and shark appearances and does it with uncommonly good effects and decent characters. The set up of the story was well done too. The Reef is an example of a shark survival film done right. 
Films like The Reef – Open Water, Lake Placid, Orca and Piranha (1978 version)

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Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.

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