AUGUST 24, 2011
If you thought the only problem with Open Water was the lack of victims, then The Reef is the answer to all of your prayers; mimicking the plot and pace but with FOUR people instead of two. To be fair, there’s a sort of plot beyond waiting around to die – they had recently left an island (by boat) and plan to swim back to it, instead of just treading water in one place like the Open Water folk, but otherwise it’s pretty much the same damn movie, albeit with far more tolerable characters.
In fact one thing that struck me right away after their boat sunk was how relatively calm they were about the whole thing. They had no means of communication, no food/water of note, and were not in any flight paths – in other words, they were screwed even if there weren’t any sharks around. But yet once they all climb up on the bottom of their boat (still floating above water, though not for long) there’s no panic, no idiotic arguing, nothing. They’re all just sort of sitting around calmly planning their next move as if they were only mildly inconvenienced by the whole thing. Not, “OH SHIT! WE’RE FUCKED!” but more “Oh, *sigh*, I guess we’ll have to swim 20 miles back to shore and hope the sharks don’t get us. Anyone got any gum?”
Of course, this means that you won’t be wishing the sharks will eat them sooner than later, but this also makes it more of a shame that Andrew Traucki’s script doesn’t really develop any of the characters beyond the basics (name and how they relate to each other). There’s plenty of time before the sharks start eating our heroes, but the time is spent on a lot of generic dialogue that doesn’t really make these folks any more interesting to us, as well as repetitive “I saw something!” scenes in which one person sees something (we never do) and the guy with the goggles scans around underwater. Sometimes this bit will end with the sight of a shark way off in the distance, but usually not. There’s some minor suspense to the affair, but Traucki could have really made things interesting if we had more reason to care about these folks (let’s be honest – no one is watching hoping that they ALL make it out alive, or else there’s no chompy-chomp).
OR, he could have given some more inner conflict to the group, as even what little there is of that sort of stuff is pretty generic. Our two obvious heroes used to date and are still sort of in love, so you know that A. they’ll make up and B. one of them will die saving the other. It’s just how these movies go, and the predictability of this, the only “subplot” of note, doesn’t help the movie feel like a giant rerun. It was far more interesting when the 5th member was trying to mess with the others’ heads before they separated. This guy didn’t want to swim, opting to stay on the floating remains of the boat, but that didn’t stop him from trying to con one of the women into giving him her wetsuit in case he had to go in the water later. The movie definitely could have used more of that; not outright villainy, but just more “I’m out for myself” behavior or minor conflict to keep the tension up.
Spoiler in next paragraph!
I was also disappointed by the lack of balls in the climax. Throughout the movie there’s one guy doing all of the heavy lifting – he goes back into the sunken boat to find some supplies, he figures out which direction to swim, and he finds a surfboard (and cuts it in half, a sound that makes my ears bleed) for the others to use while he relies only on his legs/stamina to keep him afloat. In other words, if anyone deserves to live, it’s him, since the others are just a bunch of dead weight. Naturally, at the end, he dies, after helping the girl to safety. But it’s not in a heroic way, which would have been fine (like, cutting his leg and swimming in an opposite direction to ward the shark away) – he’s begging her to help him up and she, worthless person that she is, uselessly attempts to pull him up. Worse, in the real story that this is partially based on, the male was the only survivor, so they changed the “facts” and ended up with the most blandly traditional ending ever, instead of doing something a bit more interesting and having a true story to back them up if anyone questioned it.
But while it doesn’t live up to Open Water’s anti-commercial tendencies, it certainly LOOKS much better than that film. Both used only real shark footage, but this one is the better made film, hands down. The scenery is gorgeous, and even when things are hectic the camerawork is much more cinematic, as opposed to Open Water’s very shaky, almost documentary-esque approach. And the scares actually work better, IMO, not only do we have more victims (and thus more tension to the attacks – in Open Water we knew they’d both be alive at least until the final 10 minutes or so), but they’re staged a bit better when they do occur. Plus, the fact that they are actively attempting to reach safety makes their plight much more nerve-wracking, particularly when minor “islands” (rocks that break the water, one of which not even big enough for them all to fit on) are in sight and the sharks are seemingly trying to block their way. In OW they just floated around in one basic spot, yelling at each other, so when the sharks came it was like “oh no, an asshole who isn’t doing anything might get eaten!”
Also: scary ass turtle corpse. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m afraid of pretty much all fish/water mammals, including turtles, so when they find a corpse of one (presumably eaten by one of the sharks) I actually jumped a bit at its reveal. Dead or alive, those things freak me the hell out. I’m also inexplicably afraid of slicing my foot on some jagged rock or coral or something (that scene in Cast Away – GAH!), so I liked that they worked in a bit of that as a possible danger as well.
Basically, I don’t like the water much, is what I’m saying, so there is a sort of basic “what if this happened to me” fear that allows me to get caught up in this stuff much more than say, a movie about some folks that were stranded in the desert or the woods. However, even with that on the movie’s side, I can still recognize that they were just sort of going through the motions, doing nothing beyond what you’d expect to see from this sort of movie. It’s enjoyable to a degree, but cripplingly unimaginative and “safe”.
What say you?