Reef, The (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Five friends reunite and decide to take a sailboat to an island that not many people visit since it is very far out at sea. Once they get to the island, everyone has fun in their beachwear, admires the azure scenery, and inhales the salty breeze—so pictorial, some of the shots look as if they are ripped right out of a Ralph Lauren ad.
Luke (Damian Walshe-Howling) and Kate (Zoe Naylor) even have some time to flirt and ponder over their once formidable romantic relationship. The two obviously still have feelings for each other. But there is a problem: Luke notices that the tide is dropping fast which means that the boat is in danger of getting its keel damaged by the corals. All quickly get back to the boat, relieved that it is undamaged—or so they think.
What I liked most about “The Reef,” written and directed by Andrew Traucki, is that it manages to build a certain level of intensity even before the shark appears in the water. When the boat capsizes, it happens so suddenly, I found myself as disoriented as the characters. Prior to that point, the picture allows us to relish on open spaces that look bright and safe—images one can expect from a perfect tropical vacation.
When the boat overturns, however, we are bombarded by bleak colors, a tight space, and neck-deep water. Due to the sudden shift in images, the filmmakers are successful in injecting horror as we begin to question what we might have done differently, if any, if we were in the characters’ full foot fins. Just what exactly are you supposed to do when you are the middle of a vast ocean and your boat has turned upside down with little to no means of rescue?
Part of the fun is that the picture allows the characters to consider the possibilities instead of simply jumping to a course of action just because they panic or—worse—that hackneyed excuse of “staying together.” Warren (Kieran Darcy-Smith) decides that he is going to wait. This seems logical because he has a device that can grab planes’ attention if they happen to be nearby. But there is a catch: Luke argues that the boat is slowly sinking and they are nowhere near planes’ flightpath. Luke suggests that they swim to Turtle Island but it is approximately twelve miles away by swimming. I remember my jaw dropping because I can barely swim from one edge of a swimming pool to the other.
Meanwhile, Warren, an experienced fisher and crewman, is adamant about not getting in the water because he knows there are all sorts of hungry creatures on the hunt. Those who decide to take a chance and swim promise to send rescue as quickly as possible.
Eventually, a really big shark spots its lunch and makes an appearance. I found myself pulling my limbs toward my torso as it encircles the Australians. Suzie (Adrienne Pickering) squeals louder and splashes more violently by the second. I begged her boyfriend, Matt (Gyton Grantley), to slap some sense into her because she is endangering everybody. As scary as it is to see the shark go for the kill, I was more terrified when Luke dunks his head underwater to check the location of the shark relative to their position.
At times we see the shark clearly and we know what to expect. But then there are instances when it is nowhere to be found and the camera lures us to look closer. Although gore is inevitable, as in all movies with sharks eating people, “The Reef” focuses on the increasing dread so the shocks have bite and a bloody aftertaste.
Black Water (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
Grace (Diana Glenn), Lee (Maeve Dermody), and Adam (Andy Rodoreda) are traveling all over Northern Australia. Everything is going along quite smoothly until they decide to go to the swamp with Jim (Ben Oxenbould), a local tour guide, and try a bit of fishing. The trio believe it will be a worthwhile adventure because not many tourists go there. While fishing, Jim claims that crocodiles have become a rarity in the swamp recently because locals capture and kill them for money. Just as quickly, their boat capsizes and the four scramble in the water for their lives.
“Black Water,” written and directed by David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki, might have been a much more enthralling creature feature film if the characters are given more to do or if it would have had a running time of just above one hour. Once the terrified characters climb up the trees with seemingly no means of escape, the pacing becomes as stagnant as the swamp’s muddy water.
Naturally, they argue about which course of action they should take. Lee and Grace opt to wait to be rescued while Adam wants to get to the capsized boat that happens to be about twenty feet away, turn it over, and find help. The scenario amused me because, at least from my point of view, there is really no debate in terms of what they should do next. To wait to be rescued is far from a good idea because the swamp is obviously deserted. Waiting means expending energy on sitting around. They have no food nor water. Now, if they had provisions, their debate would be more interesting to listen to. Instead, the picture grows tiresome and we wonder if or when there will be a next solid scare.
I wished the characters had a bit more knowledge about crocodiles. It would have been more fun to watch if they somewhat have an idea what they are up against. If they did, they could have come up with creative and entertaining ways to get away from their increasingly grim predicament. For instance, crocodiles are extremely patient hunters. When they decide to move, their reactions are extremely fast. Accuracy does not matter much due to their sheer power and size. The catch is, after an explosion of energy, they are back to observation mode because their muscles need to recharge. Even if they can see their prey getting away, they are forced to stay in a passive position. Unfortunately, none of the crocodile’s biology or physiology is acknowledged or explained. Yes, it isn’t required but watching the trio sit in a tree and accomplishing nothing will test anyone’s patience.
However, I liked that the filmmakers choose to hide the crocodile’s full appearance for as long as possible. It made me squirm in my seat because every time someone reaches into the water to grab the rope that is tied to the boat, one image keeps popping in my head: when the shark finally rears its head from the water as the well-intentioned Chief Martin Brody looks away for a split-second in Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.” The two films are also similar in that we see the creature’s entire body much later than we expect.
“Black Water” has some well-earned jump-out-of-your-seat moments and unintentionally comic reactions shots, but it ultimately leaves the audiences hungry for more.