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The Reef DVD Review

The Reef (2010/11) Australian movie poster The Reef

Australian Theatrical Release: March 17, 2011 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Andrew Traucki

Cast: Damian Walshe-Howling (Luke), Zoe Naylor (Kate), Adrienne Pickering (Suzie), Gyton Grantley (Matt), Kieran Darcy-Smith (Warren), Mark Simpson (Shane)

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While The Reef's title logo is covered with blood, a look at its MPAA rating reveals it is R entirely "for language." That makes it a rare beast these days: a nonviolent killer shark thriller. That contradiction probably stands in the way of it finding an audience, but as an Australian film, it will take what it can get.

The movie is advertised as being based on a true story, although the end credits supply standard fictional disclaimers. I put more stock in the latter, because who expects or wants their story to be told faithfully when it involves friends and relatives getting eaten by a shark? Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

Sitting atop their capsized yacht, Matt and Kate weigh their options, while Luke checks his watch. The four friends trying to swim to safety become moving targets for the Australian sharks.

With one point-of-view sequence, The Reef establishes Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) as the protagonist. He is at the airport to meet his friend Matt (Gyton Grantley), Matt's girlfriend Suzie (Adrienne Pickering), and Matt's sister Kate (Zoe Naylor). Tactful exposition establishes Luke as a deliverer of boats. But this gathering is not business but pleasure.
Luke leads the group onto a yacht captained by Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith) and reconnects with Kate, who he dated some time ago and maintains feelings for.

This is no relationship film, of course. About twenty minutes in, the group's boat is struck by something and capsizes. That might not be a huge problem, except that the boat is in remote, scarcely-traveled waters. Its distress box is an outdated model that requires a plane above to get signal. The cherries on top of that sundae of unfortunate facts are the sharks. An early scene showcasing jaw bones on land reveals the various different species of sharks that can be found in the waters. Without life rafts or anything but the bottom of the slowly-sinking boat and some boogie boards to hold onto, things are looking pretty desperate for this party of five.

They make the only feasible choice, to try to swim to nearby land. Although they expect an exhausting journey of at least a few hours, they're in the water a great deal longer than that. Inevitably, the ranks begin to thin among the four making the swim (a fearful Warren stays back, pinning his hopes on the boat).

Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) puts on his scuba mask to look beneath the surface, as we fear he'll see a shark.

I like that The Reef shows hardly any gore. Suggestion is powerful and we don't need to see the bloodied, severed limb and stringy intestines to understand and appreciate a gruesome death. The lack of carnage may be more about stretching a thin budget than anything else, but it adds to the film's design, which is to put us among the group and get us to weigh our inherent desire to live with our fear of the great unknown often forgotten in today's wired world. The ocean is one of the few frontiers where man can find himself totally out of control and up against the sky-high odds of the elements.
The distance that separates us from the kills makes sense dramatically and spatially.

It also makes sense financially, because when the film does give us looks at sharks, they tend not to convince with their affordable computer animation. Rather than taking the Syfy route and knowingly embracing camp value, The Reef instead keeps a straight face and tries to make do with what it has. What it has is an involving survival story. No single aspect of the story really stands out and grips you, but the directing, acting, and storytelling competence all add up to something reasonably satisfying.

The Reef made the festival rounds last year, starting at Cannes in May and moving to Germany, South Korea, Spain, and eventually its homeland. The film did secure theatrical release in Australia, Mexico, and the Philippines last March. This week in the States, it premiered on DVD and Blu-ray from Image Entertainment.

The Reef DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $27.97
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($29.97 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Reef appears in 2.35:1, enhanced for widescreen displays. One shot inside the boat looked grainy and there is limited detail throughout, but otherwise the movie is clean and clear, its blue-heavy aquatic visuals playing with no issue greater than Image Entertainment's usual mild interlacing. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is fair, offering some light atmosphere, but not engulfing you with the aquatic sounds you might expect. Though it has a head on its shoulders, the movie isn't above some loud jump scare moments.

The trailer and cover's tagline makes you wonder: would it really be much more pleasant to drown than be eaten by a shark? A shark is filmed from the safety of a cage in "Shooting with Sharks." Swimmers swim past a shark fin and the distressed cover man on the DVD's main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The DVD includes two bonus features. A trailer (2:08) slightly oversells the film's action.

More notable is "The Reef: Shooting with Sharks" (23:54), a good behind-the-scenes making-of featurette. Cast and crew sound off on the physically challenging genuine ocean production, with the latter group also touching upon getting shark footage and patching it together with visual effects in post-production.

The main menu plays clips in the open water of a cover art reformatting. That cover art is reproduced in a cardboard slipcover which may protect the plastic-saving keepcase within.

Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith) chooses to take his chances on the slowly-sinking boat. The eighteen pre-capsizing minutes are enough for the movie to develop Kate (Zoe Naylor) and Luke's complicated romantic history.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Australian poster for The Reef billed it as "The Scariest Shark Movie Since Jaws", which, ignoring the bold claim, still declares it a "shark movie", from which you can only expect so much. I actually don't know if I would dispute that claim, but then I haven't seen many shark movies, only the granddaddy of them all and then the mindless latest output from Syfy. Unsurprisingly, The Reef occupies the great chasm between those two extremes. It is frightening, suspenseful, and for the most part quite believable. I wouldn't be surprised if it does compare favorably to your Jaws sequels, Deep Blue Sea, Open Water, and the like.

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Reviewed July 20, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Lightning Entertainment, Mysterious Light, Screen Australia, Screen NSW, Prodigy Movies, and Image Entertainment.
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