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When Luke finds his boat capsized by submerged rocks, he and four of his friends are suddenly adrift in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Rescue isn't coming, so it's either stay on the capsized boat and hope that someone with a plane or another boat sees them, or they swim twelve miles to (hopefully) an island for safety. If that didn't sound like that big of a problem, did I mention that the waters are home to a rather hungry shark?
First there was JAWS, and it was good. Then there was ORCA. It was not so good. Then there was PIRANHA, which was good in another way. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but let's just say that there have been numerous horror films involving the creatures of the deep finding time to snack on people who dare to go into the water. Indie shark films have been attempted before, most notably 2004's OPEN WATER, and now here's THE REEF (not to be confused with the kid's film of the same name). And like OPEN WATER, this films tries to overcome its low budget and provide a thrill ride. Question is, does this one stay afloat?
Obviously with indie films, you at times have limitations on your budget. In this case, THE REEF was shot for $3.5 million. Obviously a bit more than OPEN WATER's $500K, but there's still that barrier of a lack of green to do what you want to do. That's not a problem here, as writer/director/producer Andrew Traucki goes the route of making the characters and their relationship the focus, and it works. The cast also helps this work by doing an excellent job at portraying natural, likeable characters. As the movie begins, the four friends already appear to have a natural rapport with one another, which also helps sell the tension between two of the characters later on. Adrienne Pickering and Damian Walshe-Howling are the standouts, providing some solid emotion for either each other or their friends.
Another great thing about THE REEF is its cinematography. Aesthetics aside (the film perfectly captures the beauty of the open sea), Traucki runs a tight ship (no pun intended) when it comes to direction. When you have a film of this type, you can only have the film run for so long before folks start to lose interest. That said, the film is kept under the 90-minute mark and moves along at a nice pace. As for the shark, Traucki keeps with the 'less is more' route and shows very little of the beast. Part of the reason may be the lack of funds, which went to the integration of the filmed shark footage being blended into the film itself, which in itself is very well done.
As mentioned before, THE REEF is treading the same path that OPEN WATER had been over four years ago, and fans of the former will see this film as nothing more than a copycat. True, the story was tweaked, but the whole 'based on a true story' thing is nothing more than marketing hype. As well, the film also follows the clichés that you'd expect from a film involving sharks: there's someone who manages to get cut, there's are shots of thrashing legs in the water as the shark approaches, and there's a shot of heads above water as one person gets picked off. I know that there's only so much you can do with a film like this and a limited budget, but on the other hand, thinking outside the box is always a plus.
So, in spite of having more than a few similarities with past independent shark films, THE REEF still manages to provide compelling characters and intense moments of terror that you'd normally expect from being stuck out in the ocean and having to get to dry land. The film definitely scores points on the characters and the performances by everyone involved, which makes the film all the more engaging. Plus, the film's brisk running time and tight pacing keeps your interest in what's going on until the eventual conclusion. Those wanting gore with their sharks will again be disappointed, but the rest of us will be hesitant to get into the water after seeing this one. That is, until sharks evolve lungs and are able to walk on land.
But that's SHARKTOPUS territory, and you know how that went.
Video: Presented in 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen, the transfer is gorgeous. Sharp colors mix in with a very crisp picture. Obviously, the majority of the film takes place outdoors on the open sea, and the bright blues of both the ocean and the skies are beautifully vibrant. When used, the CGI blends nicely to make the shark footage seamless with the actual film. Very nice stuff.
Audio: The 5.1 DTS-HD lossless Master Audio track matches up just as well as the video. While it doesn't give your system the workout that you'd expect, the film does make use of the of the surrounds on occasion to give the film the immersive feeling. This mix is front-heavy, so you'll get the dialogue (which is clean and clear), along with the score and the majority of the sound effects coming from the front speakers.
Extras are unfortunately slim with this package. The only behind the scenes extra is the half-hour making-of doc, Shooting With Sharks. Consisting of some talking head interviews with the cast and the crew, the doc also mixes in some behind-the-scenes footage and other EPK materials. The cast and crew touch on topics such as the physically challenging ocean production, obtaining the shark footage and patching it together with visual effects in post-production and so on. It's not a bad featurette, but leaves you wanting more.
Also included is the film's trailer.
Director Andrew Traucki crafts a suspenseful character-driven thriller that keeps you not only out of the water but glued to the screen, all without the aid of fancy CGI sharks and gore. While fans of OPEN WATER will see more than a few similarities with it and this film, there's still entertainment to be found here. The Blu Ray looks and sounds great, but a lack of real in-depth extras about the production is a bit of a downer.