Friday, July 26, 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 .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 (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.
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