Tuesday, June 25, 2013

30 Days of Nightmares #25: THE REEF (2010)

The Story: A group of Aussie boaters gets stranded in shark-infested waters.

Expectations: Just a few days ago, I was writing about how it's impossible for me (and I don't think I'm alone) to watch a movie about demonic possession without comparing it to THE EXORCIST.  Likewise, I knew it would be hard for me to watch THE REEF without comparing it to JAWS.  I can't imagine that any movie about a shark attack could possibly have the kind of deep, lasting effect on me that JAWS had.  Which begs the question: Do new horror movies have the same kind of deep, lasting effect on younger generations that the "classics" and "modern classics" had on earlier generations?

As I binge on horror movies, I'm realizing that a lot of the recent horror films I'm watching are technically more impressive than the "classics."  Many of them seem (to me, at least) a bit derivative, storywise, but maybe that's mostly product of my age?  It's been said that there are only seven basic plots, and I'm old enough to have seen many, many variations on all them.  That doesn't keep me from enjoying new variations, but I suppose it does make me a bit more analytical.  A film like THE REEF can only seem so new to me...   I digress.

Reaction: THE REEF is a lean, mean thrilling machine.  It has a familiar man vs. wild setup in which the characters are not simply pit against a shark, but against an ocean and all the secrets that are hidden beneath its surface.  The filmmaker is judicious about how often he uses the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON / JAWS underwater POV... For the most part, we only see what's under water when one of the characters sees what's under water.  That keeps the story focus on the psychological states of the characters, and it kept me tense for most of the running time of this film.  In other words, THE REEF isn't simply a bunch of scare sequences broken up by lulls.  It is one long scare sequence... because, as viewers, we can never be sure what's going to happen or when.  The unpredictability makes for a very engaging experience.

Will the film have a lasting effect on me?  Probably not.  I was equally impressed with the similar OPEN WATER (2003), but that film hasn't really stayed with me.  I still prefer a film like JAWS, with its classical structure and catharsis, or a man vs. nature film like TOUCHING THE VOID, which has a strong metaphysical component.  THE REEF is a simpler film, about the primitive struggle for physical survival.  As such, it's a great 94 minute rollercoaster ride. 

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Unlike ROGUE (another JAWS descendant that I recently reviewed), THE REEF is surprisingly un-gory.  There's blood, but not much carnage... and I think the film actually works better as a result.  In JAWS, we see a severed leg fall down to the ocean floor.  In THE REEF, what we get instead is a man floating in a sea of red, quickly going into shock, too-casually saying, "My leg is gone."  His inappropriate casualness, combined with the lack of visual payoff, is somehow much more startling -- because it holds us in the immediate experience.  There would actually be some relief in cuting away to a gore shot, but THE REEF leaves us instead with the idea of pain and loss.   Kudos to the filmmakers for getting that one right.


  1. My personal take on plots falls to the classic Five Types of Conflict in Literature:

    Man Vs. Man
    Man Vs. Nature
    Man Vs. Society
    Man vs. Gods
    Man vs. Self

    I think all plots fall into one of these. But you pose an interesting question. After a while, can ANYthing seem truly original to us? Can we recognize when a movie is lacking and derivative? Or are we doomed to dismiss everything as "A poor man's Outbreak" or "High Noon in outer space"?

    "Open Water" reminded me of a *segment* of "Jaws." I kept thinking of Quint's USS Indianapolis story as I watched it.

    1. Terri,

      As I was writing this review, I realized that at least I don't categornize movies WHILE I'm watching them... It's only afterward, when I'm trying to describe a film to someone else, that I resort to that annoying shorthand. Some movies deserve the shorthand, and others should be accepted on their own terms... but I always tend to think in terms of context when I'm writing. Maybe I should stop writing about movies and just enjoy watching them. I'm feeling very jaded today...

      I like your Conflicts list. I think a horror movie has to hit at least two of these to be effective. One just doesn't seem like enough.

  2. Enjoyed this review and was encouraged to give it a look. Loved the conflict list as well. And Joe, I have those jaded days too. But you do wonder if a. everything has been done. b. people are just crafting more shite than quality. c. we're getting old. Perhaps it's some combination of the three. We all know something entirely original and something highly imaginative can be done. District 9 comes to mind and there are others but tough to top the films that really set the bar like Jaws.

    Excellent. And still very much enjoying your look at these films. How much longer? 5 days?

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Gordon. There's no question about getting older... but I'll still take the horror films of the 2000s over the horror films I grew up with in the 1990s. I think what these reviews have made me realize is that the evolution of the genre is happening in baby steps right now -- not the quantum leaps of the 70s.

      John Kenneth Muir wrote on his blog a few days ago that he thought the best period for American horror was 1974-1979. Considering the fact that so many films are still drawing on the plots and themes (and filmmakers) that defined that era, I'd have to agree. But that doesn't mean that the horror films of the 2000s haven't improved on those "modern classics" in some ways... They just haven't seemed revolutionary within their context.

      I must admit I still get excited about horror movies. I'm going to be watching CITADEL tomorrow, and I've heard great things about that. I actually have more horror titles in my Netflix queue than days left in my experiment... so I guess I'll have to start accumulating for next time.

      Thanks for chiming in!

    2. I agree with the assessments by John and yourself on 70s cinema. There were some tremendous offerings. Thank you.