Director/Screenplay – Andrew Traucki, Producers – Michael Robertson & Andrew Traucki, Photography – Daniel Adrilley, Music – Rafael May, Production Design – Adam Head. Production Company – Lightning Entertainment/Mysterious Light/Screen Australia/Screen NSW/Prodigy Movies.
Damian Walshe-Howling (Luke), Zoe Naylor (Kate), Adrienne Pickering (Suzie), Gyton Grantley (Matt), Kieran Darcy-Smith (Warren), Mark Simpson (Shane)
Luke is joined by his friend Matt and Matt’s girlfriend Suzie as they get away from Sydney for a holiday. Also joining them is Matt’s sister Kate, Luke’s ex, and she and Luke cautiously reunite. Luke takes them out in a yacht along with crewman Warren. As they are making a return journey, the yacht scrapes over the coral of the reef and its hull ruptures. They manage to get out and climb atop the overturned hull. With the yacht slowly sinking, Luke reckons the only safe means of survival is swimming some twelve miles back to the island. The group are unsure about setting out through shark-infested waters but Luke reminds them that the yacht is sinking. They four set out while Warren elects to remain behind. However, as they start swimming, using flotation boards for buoyancy, there is a shark lurking in the water and following them.
Andrew Traucki first appeared as co-director of Black Water (2007), a grippingly good Australian film about three people trapped in a tree by a crocodile below. Subsequent to Black Water, Traucki and his co-director David Nerlich parted ways and Traucki next went solo here with The Reef. He subsequently made The Jungle (2013), a Found Footage film about a film crew being stalked by a predator, as well as the G is for Gravity segment of The ABCs of Death (2012), and then returned to make a sequel-in-name-only to the earlier film with Black Water: Abyss (2020).
There have been assorted Killer Shark films ever since Jaws (1975). The Reef was made at a time just when the killer shark film was turning into something completely absurd with Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009) and a couple of years later with Sharknado (2013) and sequels. Unlike these, The Reef falls into a small number of killer shark films that are harsh survival thrillers. The way was presaged by Open Water (2003) a few years earlier, which was also based on a true story and has a very similar plot about a couple stranded in shark-infested waters after being abandoned on a scuba-diving expedition. Other examples that can be pointed to include The Shallows (2016), 47 Meters Down (2017) and sequel, Adrift (2017), the subsequent Australian-made Great White (2021), Maneater (2022), The Requin (2022), Shark Bait (2022), Shark Waters (2022) and The Black Demon (2023).
Like Open Water, The Reef is also based on a True Story, albeit very loosely. Traucki has taken the story of Ray Boundy, the captain of a shrimp trawler that was overturned in the Coral Sea off the coast of Australia in 1983. Boundy and two crewmembers attempted to make a swim to a nearby reef while clinging to pieces of debris. During this time, they were pursued by a fifteen-foot tiger shark, which killed both of Boundy’s colleagues. He was eventually rescued from the reef.
Traucki makes great use of natural photography – much of the film is the four characters swimming alone surrounded by nothing except water in every direction. There are also fine scenes with them scuba diving, while their swim also entails frequent scenes where Damian Walshe-Howling dons goggles to dip his head under the water to look for the presence of the shark.
The early scenes seem unexceptional. The characters fail to make sufficient imprint on the film for us to care sufficiently about the human drama over whether Damian Walshe-Howling and Zoe Naylor will reconcile, while the others just seem faces with names. As we pass through these scenes, the journey out to the reef and the initial sinking of the yacht, The Reef seems unremarkable. I certainly didn’t get the feel in these scenes of the grippingly intense suspense of Black Water.
On the other hand, once Andrew Traucki gets the quartet of characters abandoned in the middle of the ocean, he really goes to work. The scenes with Damian Walshe-Howling searching underwater with his goggles and trying to make out shapes in the murk come with great tension. The sheer panic among the characters as they think they see lurking shape before the shark abruptly appears has you jumping out of your seat. Traucki’s camera often pulls away down into the depths looking up to show their feet dangling down from the surface and lets us see just how precarious a vulnerability they have. The last few climactic minutes and the race to get to the safety of the reef have you gouging the seatrests in tension. It is here that The Reef really delivers.
Andrew Traucki followed this with an in-name-only sequel The Reef: Stalked (2022).