Baddie – Honestly, a huge shark.
Lesson – Australian movies hold no hope.
I’m in a shark kinda mood. So I picked out a movie to watch – Blue Steel. Then I re-read the synopsis and realized I’ve already seen it. So I resorted to my second choice, The Reef, because who doesn’t want to watch the ‘scariest shark movie since Jaws‘. That’s a ridiculously lofty claim. Jaws is still a scary movie. Well, right up until the robot shark om-nom-noming a boat. So this movie started, and I was pleased as punch to see this, because normally I see the words ‘Asylum’ and my brain begins rebelling.
Here’s the thing I love the best about Australian horror movies. They KNOW SUSPENSE. There’s this opening sequence where they are swimming around the reef, snorkeling. The angles are horror-typical, and you know there’s a shark, and that snorkeling in Australia is pretty dangerous. There’s even smaller black tip sharks around. A character is isolated – not really–but just in a moment. It’s tense. Later, the boat ‘stalls’, they deal with the tide–these are small points of tension. It’s normal stuff that might happen on a trip, it’s the regular vacation tension. It’s the build to the eventual main event, and it’s executed extremely well.
Even the romantic tension is great. Most horror movies tend to neglect the romantic connections with their characters, or the actors have no chemistry. Not this movie. It’s fantastic. It adds drama to the dramatic, because the characters are already compromised. Now, when the boat capsizes, it gets pretty real, pretty fast.
After this, everything is terrifying. That innocuous turtle shell floating, that random splash that might be a school of fish – everything. Everyone is aware that there are sharks in the water, and that they are susceptible, but they have no choice. That’s Australian cinema–they love to place characters in absolutely inescapable conditions. Actually, that’s largely the main difference I’ve seen. Even in slasher/torture films like Wolf Creek, the characters are allowed to escape only to realize how hopeless their situation truly is.
Now, I’m willing to relent that pretty much every Aussie horror film I’ve ever seen has the same trope characters, and essentially the same scenario. Yes, this is Black Water in the reef.
Hey, y’know what’s already pretty scary? Great white sharks, exhibiting behavior that they normally would in the wild. Australia, the most dangerous place to live ever, knows this. They don’t tend to play around with it too much, not in this movie. Here’s another thing that The Reef does AWESOME. They use a shark. The shots are consistent, the shark is real and, although the green screen is a tiny bit hamfisted at times, the effect is believable.
The most effective part, for me, is that when he goes underwater to check the fin, the shark has presumably already dove down. For those who are not avid watchers of ‘Shark Week’, Great Whites tend to dive down and torpedo up to the surface. The force of a huge shark hitting the prey usually renders it unconscious and easy to eat. It’s why they’re colored light on the bottom and dark on top – nearly invisible in their prime hunting zone. So when he goes to check for the shark, it’s beneath them. That is scary.
The other greatest indicator of an Australian movie is if they take your feels and they just wreck ’em. Just, throw ’em on the ground and stomp on them. No happy endings here. No blank slate, either. Essentially just the worst injustice ever. For some reason they largely end up with one very angry woman who gets to go primal on the offending beast, although in this case that’s not really an option. This movie claims to be based on a true story, additionally.
I would recommend this movie – but I would also recommend sitting down and really watching it. This isn’t a throw-it-on and giggle with some buddies movie. If you allow it, this film is pretty darn scary.