Movie of the Month: The Reef (2010, Andrew Traucki)
I saw at least five very good movies this month. This wasn't one of them.
Ugh...okay. This one has gotten fair reviews, actually, and in some ways I can see why. It's unconventional. It's artfully shot. It's full of talented, though largely unknown, Australian actors.
The thing, though, is that there's not much that can be done with a movie predicated on four people attempting to make a very long swim while hoping not to get eaten by a great white shark that follows them for miles and picks them off one by one. There's a long scene where the four people swim, and there's some tension, or maybe a little comic relief. Then, there's another. And another. And that's it, because the only characters in the movie are the ones in the water. So, the vast open sea can occasionally be nice to look at, but you'll be looking at it for a long time.
Director Andrew Traucki mentioned that he's drawn to horror that's based on true stories (this one is, but don't take that too seriously; the changes were pronounced) because the tension feels so honest, and the enemy is so believable. That's great, but if I'm watching a horror movie, I can't get into a film where the enemy is a shark because he has no motive, and if I'm watching a drama I can't get into the film because the enemy is so completely unbeatable there's no reason to invest in the lives of the characters.
The worst thing, though, is that there's a protagonist but I can't figure out why. He's an experienced diver with model-looks who has a romantic backstory with one character, but as a protagonist, he can't provide much besides being the character with the most screen time. Spoilers abound starting here, by the way.
A film's lead character's job is essentially to drive the story forward, and there's literally no way for this character to do that. The complication arises, and the character convinces the others they have to swim because the boat, now overturned, will float further into the sea and they'll die of starvation. That decision is his only real contribution to the story. He never gets any licks in on the shark and he's powerless to do anything but swim a lot. The film tries to fool you into thinking he's driving the story by always focusing on his face when the shark's around, but he just dips his head underwater, watches for it, and that's it. There's nothing he can do. The shark might attack and easily grab one of his friends, or it might not. Not only does he do nothing about it, the film never even teases you by making you believe he could do something about it.
Almost everyone dies, so the one thing he did do - convince them all to swim - was a death sentence.
Then, in the end, the shark gets him as one horrified survivor watches him disappear into the sea, having never done anything particularly helpful up until the moment the shark kills him. My hero.