DVD Review: THE REEF - A Tight, Well-Made Claustrophobic Horror With a Vicious Bite

No, thankfully not that Finding Nemo copy cat (you know, for kids!), without the heart and with some fish being a bit too sexually provocative for my liking, though both films do feature sharks. Australian survival/creature horror The Reef, is new to DVD and it packs a surprising amount of bite. Let's hope you can get to the FIN-ish in one piece. I'm here all week...

Beautifully shot and pretty beautifully chilling, The Reef is an incredibly engaging triumph of minimalist thrills and the unavoidable empathy an audience feels when something is truly hopeless. It is a film that lives almost entirely on its ability to wring everything out of its concept without going too far beyond the point of no return, for which all the plaudits must fall to director Andrew Traucki, last seen working with swamps in 2007's creepy Black Water. What is it with this man and creature infested water?!

Melding the best components of Open Water and iconic monster movie Jaws, the film plays on the claustrophobic horror of helpless solitude, building to a terrifically energetic crescendo that is almost unbearable and yet utterly gripping. The success of the film is also based upon the incredibly effective creative agenda of good old fashioned suspenseful film-making, mixed with the most effective elements of the chase movie. Okay, it feels very familiar in parts, but then assembling a series of recognisable tropes with a new spin is essentially what the whole horror genre does every time there's a new addition.

The cast is good without ever threatening to getting into Award nomination territory- but we definitely do care when there is clear and present danger of them being chowed down upon at any moment by the film's other star. Overall the newcomers are sporadically good: the lead couple of Damian Walshe-Howling and Zoe Naylor have pretty good chemistry, though their romancing can seem a little trite at times. The others, Kieran Darcy-Smith and Adrienne Pickering play their parts as shark fodder well (oops, probably a spoiler alert there), though they struggle to deliver their lines with anything like as much gusto as they show off their ability to royally shit themselves when the sharks about.

Somewhat atypically for a low-budget creature horror, The Reef isn't fatally injured by its own sub-standard fake villain (not even Jaws could claim that), with the intelligent decision to shoot real sharks for inclusion in the film adding an authenticity to the very real horror that it's a great big fucking shark chasing the characters stranded in the water. For that reason, and for a few others, The Reef can definitely claim to be chief among the shark-based beasty horror sub-genre (all Jaws aside of course).

A triumph of low-budget minimalist horror, The Reef proves that simply sticking with the tools of the trade and beefing out a deeply unsettling story with a liberal dose of adrenaline,and plenty of meaty scares along the way is often the best approach to making a truly affecting thrill movie.

The real mark of its quality is that I got to review it early, and on the cover, you'll see my four stars, but not the beautiful words of praise I sent to the PR company in charge of the project. But it's a small step- today star reviews on low-budget fishy horror films, tomorrow shouting obscenities at Robert De Niro at Cannes. Watch this space...

Extras

It's a low-budget horror flick, so it's never going to have had a lavish amount of Extras, but the 23 minute Making Of featurette is a lot more than the promotional fluff piece that most Hollywood packages add on to boost their extra features quota, and is nice and insightful.

Trailer Making of Doc (23 mins) The Reef is available on DVD now.
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