Tag Australasian

Razorback (1984)

Razorback (1984)

Nine hundred pounds of marauding tusk and muscle!

A giant razorback boar goes on a killing spree in the Australian outback, taking the life of an animal rights activist Beth Winters in the process. Her husband, Carl, travels over from America to find out what happened to her and encounters unhelpful locals as well as a man who is a crusade to kill the pig.

 

If you think that the premise of a killer pig sounds a bit laughable then you’d be right and Razorback proceeds to prove it. Razorback was the debut feature film of Russell Mulcahy, a man who directed some of the 80s most famous music videos during the early days of its form, in particular his work with Duran Duran across ten music videos and the first ever music video shown on MTV, Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star. It’s amazing to think that many film directors today originally made their big break with music videos but Mulcahy was a pioneer – the first of his kind. As I’m not a huge fan of modern music video directors making films due to their style over substance tendencies, I have to shift some of the blame onto Mr Mulcahy!

Mulcahy’s eye for expansive detail is clear to see in his Duran Duran music videos – Save a Prayer is lushly shot in some tropical paradise and Rio‘s Caribbean yacht cruise is beautiful. So Razorback‘s major plus is that Mulcahy manages to give the Australian Outback some breathtaking splendour. It’s one of the most inhospitable and dangerous places in the world, especially for a Westerner not familiar with the Australian flora and fauna. As Carl travels across the Outback looking for the answers, we share the wonder of the sights he sees but feel little of the peril he faces. Armchair tourism is the best kind!

But we are talking about a film which features a killer pig and so really all of this talk about cinematography should come behind talking about the monster. I came to see a horror film not a tourist guide. Sadly the nice imagery can only last so long before it actually needs some substance to go with it. This is where reality suddenly hits and we realise that Razorback is about as enjoyable as a sausage that has rolled under the settee on a furry carpet and then been chewed by the dog a couple of times.

The monster of the title is hardly on camera at all, presumably because it looks awful whenever it does make a cameo appearance. It appears to be a huge, immobile model made out of fur and bin bags which is rolled out on a set of wheels every time that they need to shoot it from a distance. For close-ups, a giant model head is used but once again this lacks any sort of movement – a couple of stage hands must be shaking it left and right for the camera whenever it needs to get angry. It’s up to the editor and the sound guy to stop the attack sequences from degenerating into farce and they do a reasonable job of papering over the obvious flaws. The comparisons with Jaws that I’ve read about are rather vague I must add. Apart from the basic ‘nature runs amok’ plot, there’s very little similar between the two.

With the killer pig providing a huge let-down, it’s up to the intimidating scenery and deranged outback characters to provide the necessary threat to our main character. As I’ve already highlighted, the Australian Outback looks amazing in this film. During the day it’s a hotbed of desolation but it’s even more frightening during the night scenes. The dry ice machine does goes into overdrive during these moments, no doubt to attempt to conceal how shoddy the boar really looks, but at least these scenes are well lit, sometimes even spookily lit like the classic moors scene from An American Werewolf in London. The kangaroo hunt and subsequent slaughter is a particularly nightmarish sequence.

Without the killer pig on screen, Razorback precedes Crocodile Dundee by a couple of years in portraying as many ridiculous Australian stereotypes as possible, in particular those of rough and ready people who live in the Outback. Save for the deranged Aussie hicks who run a slaughterhouse and the an old ‘bush man’ type of character, anyone else Australian is shown spending most of their time drinking beer. The crazy poacher brothers who live in the middle of nowhere provide more of a menace to our lead character than the pig does and are way more memorable as human villains than they have any right to be.

Main actor Gregory Harrison is a rather ineffective lead role, continually on the wrong end of pretty much everything hostile in the film. It hammers home the fish-out-of-water message about an American businessman heading into the Australian Outback but his performance is too stoic to make an impression. I would rather have seen more of the secondary plot involving veteran Aussie actor’s Bill Cullen character setting off in some sort of Captain Ahab-style one-man crusade to find and kill the pig. This had potential but sadly it’s not the main focus of the film.

 

Razorback falls over flat with its original premise regarding a giant killer pig but there is still enough for everyone to warrant at least one look. It’s masterfully shot and rarely has the Australian Outback been portrayed as so inhospitable yet so majestic at the same time. This is one pork product that deserved a bit longer under the grill before it was served up.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Bait (2012)

Bait (2012)

A tsunami just flipped the food chain.

A group of people get trapped inside a supermarket when a devastating tsunami hits the coast of Australia. But soon they realise that being trapped on top of shelves inside a flooded supermarket is the least of their worries as the storm surge brought with it a pair of massive great white sharks which are now swimming around the store.

 

There’s not a great deal more story to add to this Aussie impersonation of Deep Blue Sea. Simply swap an underwater research facility for a flooded underground supermarket and you’ve pretty much got the gist of this, with a little bit of Tremors thrown in for good measure. And after a flood of increasingly-ludicrous, reality-ignorant killer shark films like Sharktopus, 2-Headed Shark Attack and Super Shark, it’s nice to get back to something a little bit more grounded in the basics and take sharks seriously. Who needs a shark that can fly or has two heads when it just needs to do what nature intended it to do best – kill? That’s what audiences are scared of. Nature’s most fearsome predator needs no gimmick to sell itself as a killing machine!

Does anyone really care about a story for a film with a set-up like this? I mean it’s not like we care whether two characters had a relationship in the past which isn’t quite over. Or that there’s a bank robber who wants to get out of the business and go straight. Or a guy who has just been fired from his job thanks to his shoplifting girlfriend. Bait spends a little bit of time (not too much however!) at the beginning to try and develop something of a story and characters but all you’ll be doing is counting down the moments until the tsunami hits. It’s sad to say it but it’s true.

When the tsunami does strike, Bait quickly picks itself up and starts to deliver some decent thrills and tense moments in between brief moments of visceral shark violence. It helps that both the flooded supermarket and garage sets look the part – both twist day-to-day environments that we’re all familiar with into something unnerving and claustrophobic. The garage is particularly effective in providing constant background tension – we know that there’s a shark in the calm, semi-lit water but we can never see it. Shots of the shark circling around a submerged car with two people trapped inside really hammer home the fact that Bait wants you to feel scared and apprehensive…and you will.

Bait plays itself seriously and it’s for the better. Though the idea could have easily been lampooned into some spoof (I’ve seen the phrase Sharks in a Supermarket banded around as if this was the illegitimate follow-up to Snakes on a Plane), the film does its best to treat the central premise as real and as deadly as possible. Even the film’s most outlandish moment involving one character’s plan to turn off the electricity ends on a sombre, heart-rendering note of tragedy which really deserved to be in a better film.

Julian McMahon (from Nip/Tuck or, if you’re talking films, then Dr Doom from Fantastic Four) is the only real star on show but he’s desperately trying to hide his accent underneath some Americanised persona. This goes for a few of the lesser known cast members too. They’re all Aussies trying to sound American – even though the film is set in Australia. The film provides plenty of shark fodder though unfortunately it’s a tad too easy to spot who’s going to live and who’s going to end up in the shark’s belly. Not one of the characters is memorable to say the least and the majority seem to stand around doing nothing until it’s their turn to be fed to the shark.

The major surprise in Bait is that the sharks look great. Well, most of the time. Spoon fed a mushy diet of low grade CGI shark effects by Sy Fy over the last few years, it’s a godsend to see someone actually producing something worthwhile. The sharks are mainly CGI and the quality varies from the awesome (one particular underwater sequence involving a guy in a makeshift cage looked frighteningly realistic) to the absurd (sharks leaping out of the water to chomp on people suspended from the ceiling). But there are also some animatronic sharks amongst the effects shots and they look top notch too. With the sharks being well-fed, there’s a decent supply of severed body parts and showers of blood which again vary in quality based on whether it’s CGI or practical effects. Sadly, the worst CGI on show is that of the tsunami and its after-effects on the town at the end.

 

Does Bait live up to its ingeniously-simple premise? Not quite. But is it a lot of fun? Yes. One of the best killer shark films of recent years and whilst the rest of the field doesn’t exactly provide much competition, Bait can at least hold its head high and say it tried. It’s not exactly a wash-out of Waitrose, more like a flooding of Asda (but there’s always a bargain to be had in the reduced section).

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Blood Camp Thatcher (1982)

Blood Camp Thatcher (1982)

Hunting is the national sport…and people are the prey!

In the near future, ‘social deviants’ are held in a maximum security camp where the sadistic leader organise “turkey hunts” where wealthy individuals pay him money to hunt prisoners for sport. A bunch of new arrivals find conditions at the camp brutal and harsh but are offered a chance of freedom if they survive this year’s hunt.

 

It’s not often I can say that I’ve watched an Australian film, at least not a modern one, but this early export from the time of Mad Max certainly makes me wonder whether I should have been exploring the Aussie film business a little more. Blood Camp Thatcher is like an earlier version of The Running Man (both films of which were updated versions of 1932′s The Most Dangerous Game) featuring a various assortment of characters being savagely hunted for sport, only this time there’s more sleaze than you shake a stick at.

Unfortunately a financial backer pulled out of the film at the last minute and the first fifteen pages of the script had to be done away. So we don’t know how the future has become so degenerate and there’s nothing to explain what the hell is going on. Just accept the fact that this is the future and it isn’t pretty. The futuristic setting is of little relevance to the film’s overall narrative though (this isn’t meant to be 1984) as there is no social commentary to be had here. The film may have started out as a well-meaning Orwellian vision of the future with visions of grandeur but in the end in turns into an exploitation fest and a cult classic.

It’s pretty is slow to get it’s gears moving and the scenes in the prison camp early on could have been culled from any of those sleazy European semi-porn prison camp films where shower scenes are gratuitous. But once the hunt begins and the characters all go their own way, the film picks its pace up and never lets up until the end. Due to the prisoners all going their separate ways and each person being hunted individually, we get five separate pursuits all running alongside each other. So the film cuts nicely from one chase to the next until one of the characters is killed off. The film is extremely gory which is probably why it’s had patchy releases across the world, especially in the UK with our notorious BBFC butchers. It’s totally gratuitous and too over-the-top to be offensive. Toes are bitten off. Heads are blown up. Eyes are impaled. People have their hands cut off. There’s dismemberments. You name it, it’s here. It’s the focus on the “turkey shoot” that really changes the tone of this film from a dull, rather sinister little exploitation flick into a cheese-fest full of crazy situations and containing so much energy, enthusiasm and general sense of fun.

There are some memorable characters here, notably the sinister-looking chap on the front cover who isn’t actually ‘Thatcher’ just the head guard. Ritter, the bald-headed, moustached, balls-less (yes you heard that right, the explanation is given in the film) and sadistic brute is one of the best bits of the film. Played with equal menace, equal tongue-in-cheek by Roger Ward, he’s the prison guard that every prison movie tries to include. He’s not averse to a bit of whipping and setting alight unfortunate failed escapees. There’s also some weird half-man, half-beast character with a hairy face and long fangs that seems to have been lifted right out of the He-Man cartoon. He is one the main hunters and enjoys mutilating people in gruesome ways. Again maybe a bit of explanation could have been given as to why creatures like this now exist but maybe it’s best just to sit back and take it as it is.

It’s the villains who all seem to be having the fun here because the prisoners give some terribly wooden and lifeless performances. Steve Railsback is too dour and serious as the man locked up for running a pirate radio station. Olivia Hussey provides the obligatory eye candy but her performance is just as bad. When you’ve got bland ‘heroes’ like these, is it any wonder you want to see the bald guard smash the hell out of them when he has a chance?

 

Blood Camp Thatcher is a little one-dimensional and a little blunt with its intentions but it’s a trashy, highly entertaining ride – exploitation films don’t get much more straight-forward than this.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Bloodmoon (1990)

Bloodmoon (1990)

The last full moon you’ll ever see

A serial killer is on the loose at an all girl boarding school, where they strangle their victims and gouge out their eyes with a barbed wire noose.

 

An Australian slasher from the end of an era, Bloodmoon promises a bloody massacre given the unusual weapon of choice for the killer but what we get is a film of two distinct halves and very little of interest. I’ll give the film credit as it starts off with a shower scene and a bloody murder within the first few minutes – setting exploitation standards high and hopes raised for the rest of the film. Unfortunately it never manages to serve us with anything else throughout the film even half as decent.

Bloodmoon‘s first half runs like a teen comedy with guys chasing girls, high school rivalries between surfers and preps and stereotypical school hi-jinks such as spiking drinks during parties being ever present. Oh yeah there’s an odd killing every now and then to remind us we’re watching a horror film and this is usually preceded by the female victim exposing her chest to her doomed boyfriend. This barrage of cheesy soap opera style drama continues for ages until something really weird happens half-way through and we uncover who the killer is. That’s the viewer who finds out, not anyone in the film. I guess the writers and director thought that with us knowing who the killer is, we’d be a bit more on the edge by seeing him set up a fiendish plan to kill someone else or try and plot his next move. But it’s as soon as we realise who the killer is, that the film changes direction and head into rather strange territory. It can’t conjure up any suspense or tension. It can’t play around with red herrings. Once you give your big surprise away, there’s no turning back no matter how good the writer may be.

Bloodmoon has now turned into a weird Psycho style film with a main character that is a little mad and is being driven crazy by a dominant female in his life. Leon Lissek plays the killer teacher whose wife holds back on the nookie so he resorts to playing with cats and killing co-eds to get his sexual kicks. You couldn’t make it up. There are loads of scenes of the teacher being spurned by his wife, who takes pleasure in bedding male students with his knowledge. It’s a little weird to see the killer being made the main character, as most of the teenagers aren’t fleshed out beyond their names and how horny they are and then how badly they scream when they die. None of the teenage characters are thrust into the limelight of being the protagonist. They’re just there to get naked and die.

Despite the presence of plenty of nudity, it’s the other staple of the slasher genre that is the biggest let down of Bloodmoon. The kills are pretty lame and gore-free despite the cool-sounding premise of a barbed wire noose as the weapon of choice. In fact the best death is when the teacher repeatedly smashes a co-eds face off a desk. It’s clearly a dummy that he’s slamming hard into the desk which makes the scene even more preposterous but at least we can see what’s going on – most of the other deaths occur off-screen much to my chagrin.

 

Bloodmoon is a pretty horrid B-movie filled with nubile co-eds, surfer dudes, bad hair metal and barbed wire nooses. Certainly not what I was expecting when I sat down to watch. But you may like it if you really love your cheesy slasher films.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer (2008)

I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer (2008)

Mass murder, it’s just not cricket.

A cricket team are killed off one-by-one by a demented killer as revenge for them all bullying a child twenty years earlier. For their safety, the remaining team members are relocated to a remote safe house in the middle of the country. However the killer cricketer tracks them down to finish off what he started.

 

A micro-budget splatter shocker from the land of Oz, I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer is as silly and derivative as it sounds and your enjoyment for this flick will depend on your tolerance for one of the world’s most unexciting sports – cricket. I guess this has been released in the summer of 2009 to coincide with the Ashes but I’m not sure that there’s going to be a lot of love for this sort of thing in the States where I’m not sure they even know what cricket is. The Aussies love it. The Brits love it. Former and current Commonwealth nations love it. But they’re not exactly massive film markets and I just wonder who this was supposed to be aimed at. Cricket fans may be pleased, horror fans less so.

There’s a fair amount of flair and creativity on display here and good use is made of the cricket gimmick but the material is just too bogged down with genre convention to be constantly entertaining and too uninteresting to really make a solid feature length film. I guess someone came up with the idea of a killer cricketer and then tried to create a film around it. What may have worked as a short film just seems too padded out, even for a reasonably short feature length of seventy-eight minutes. The story isn’t that engaging either and lots of scenes seem to have been included for filler reasons only. In a short film like this, padding out the running time is a crime. So you’ll find yourself clock-watching in between kills.

Part of the main problem in why the film doesn’t work as well as it should is down the obvious pandering to the fan boy market with the inclusion of pretty unnecessary gore and entrails and arguably the most pointless and prolonged shower scene in history (there’s even a special feature on the DVD to watch the shower scene uncut) featuring Miss Nude Australia. There are only so many cricketing quips and gags that you can throw out there too and the film ploughs through them all. Unfortunately they may only seem funny to about 10% of the audience.

At least the film delivers in the body count and the innovative ways in which the cricketer dispatches his victims. The violence is pretty brutal and constant use is made of the cricket stumps as weapons. The killer wears a modified wicket keeper glove – almost like some sort of Freddy Kruger-style death glove complete with razor sharp blades. There is also a cup (the protective shield that cricketers wear to protect their nether regions) lined with nails which is used in the film’s most painful (especially for men) death scene. Don’t forget the cricket bat too – plenty of people are smashed around the head with it! All of the kills are bloody, gory and sometimes a little too over-the-top. But they work well. And at least the characters are mainly men in their twenties and thirties and not just a bland concoction of lifeless teenagers.

Unfortunately, this bland array of generic-looking men doesn’t give us any reason to want to root for them. They’re so uninteresting that I almost wished I was watching stereotypical teenage characters being diced. The cricket team here are boring, dull and unlikeable and given little room to develop as characters. I know a lot of them are just in there to up the body count but even the main characters didn’t appeal to me.

 

I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer is full of cheap blood and boobs tactics to appeal to the horror crowd but the lifeless script, dull characters and idea that cricket can be entertaining just bowls this one out for a duck!

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Rogue (2007)

Rogue (2007)

Welcome to the Terrortory

An idyllic wildlife cruise turns into a fight for survival when the tourist boat responds to a distress flare further down the river. Heading into unexplored territory, the boat is struck by something big and is forced to beach on a small island in the middle of a lake. With the tide rising and darkness closing in, the tourists soon realise that they are at the mercy of a giant rogue crocodile which is ready to hunt and protect it’s turf to the very end.

 

After what seems like an eternity of terrible straight-to-DVD and Sci-Fi Channel original films about killer crocodiles and alligators, the monster-on-the-loose public finally gets the film they have been waiting for so long to see – Rogue. It seems so incomprehensible that this film could have almost the same idea as Lake Placid 2 or Primeval yet be on the opposite end of the spectrum in the ‘worst films of all time’ stakes. Directed by Wolf Creek head honcho Greg McLean, you know from the start that this is going to be gritty, brutal and a tense affair and he delivers exactly what you would expect and more. In fact I just wasn’t expecting Rogue to be as good as it was…….I’m so used to just seeing crappy crocodiles munching through teenagers and token characters that I’d forgotten what exactly makes a good monster flick.

For a start, the cinematography is awesome and really captures the raw, brutal nature of the Australian wilderness. You do get the feeling that these people are miles away from any help and they need to look after themselves because rescue is a long, long way away. You get lulled into a false sense of security during the opening twenty minutes as the tour boat heads through some gorgeous territory and you forget what you actually wanted to see. But fear not as danger isn’t too far away. Once the croc makes it’s presence felt, the film shifts up a couple of gears and really kept me on tender hooks. The film does an awesome job of ramping up the tension to heavy breathing levels once the daylight starts to fade and the water levels begin to rise. There are some absolutely gripping scenes including the one where the tourists attempt to escape the island by letting one of them swim across the other side of the lake with a rope and suspending it in mid-air. Watching each person attempt to shimmy across the rope with the still water below them clearly hiding a fate worse than anything you could imagine.

The crocodile looks terrifying and is arguably the best CGI crocodile I’ve seen. The animators were clearly not wanting to make it super-agile like so many other crocodiles on film seem to be. They have obviously studied footage of real crocodiles to see how they move and behave and have attempted to replicate this to perfection. This one glides through the water with deadly silence, slowly drags its heavy body across the ground when it’s on land and yet is still capable of lightning-fast reactions when it needs to have them. It’s not on screen a lot until the final third but such a good job is done of creating its unseen menace that you don’t need to see it because you know it’s hanging around, watching the tourists from below the surface and waiting for the moment to strike.

The final third is arguably the film’s weakest point with one of the survivors attempting to go one-on-one with the crocodile in its lair. It felt a bit unnecessary and almost obligatory when arguably the most logical conclusion was to have the survivors just escape and leave the croc to protect its turf from anyone else that tried to cross it. Also the survival of a previously missing character is a real Hollywood-esque addition which it could easily have done without. We don’t always need to see happy endings (look at poor Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea for crying out loud!). It’s a bit of a cheap cop-out and a kick in the teeth when the rest of the film had pretty much panned out against type.

But at least the characters aren’t just partying teenagers out for sex, drugs and drink. These people are just a random bunch of tourists with some back story or traits to make them stand out a little. There’s even a family thrown in for good measure with their young daughter so at least some bets will be off by the end of this one. On the acting side, Radha Mitchell is always good value for money and there’s a chance to see a pre-fame Sam Worthington as one of the tourists. Worthington is now better known as an action hero in the likes of Clash of the Titans and Terminator: Salvation. Check him out here before his pay demands sky rocketed. Across the board, the cast do their jobs well even if some of the characters they portray are minor sideshows to the main focus.

 

I honestly can’t recommend Rogue highly enough. Maybe it’s because my standards have been destroyed by the slew of crocodile flicks that have been hammering my DVD player for the past few years or maybe it is actually a decent flick. The finale ruins the film but don’t let that it bother you. Just sit back and enjoy the best killer crocodile flick since….well ever really!

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Black Water (2007)

Black Water (2007)

What You Can’t See Can Hurt You.

Grace, her boyfriend Adam and her sister Lee are holidaying in Australia when they decide to take a river tour. As they head into the mangrove swamp, the boat capsizes and their guide goes missing. Realising that they’ve been attacked by a crocodile, the three survivors scramble for safety in the trees. They are now stranded in the middle of nowhere with the crocodile still lurking in the water, waiting for them to venture in. Realising that help will never find them where they are, they need to come up with a plan to escape.

 

Likened to a crocodile version of Open Water, Black Water dibbles its feet into the murky water of the killer crocodile flick with mixed results. If you’re expecting a blood fest like the cheesy Lake Placid sequels, then this isn’t the one for you. Similar to Australia’s other killer crocodile flick of 2007, Rogue, Black Water offers the same sort of dire situation which was apparently ‘based on a true story’ although likely one which was made up by a six year old boy.

Black Water opts for the realistic approach, with the film being shot on handheld cameras to make it look downbeat and gloomy. The location itself is rather enclosed, claustrophobic and sparse but you can’t help but feel that some flamboyant cinematography to show off more of the beautiful wilderness wouldn’t have gone amiss here. The characters are in the middle of nowhere but you get little sense of that due to the mangrove trees encroaching on all sides of each shot. It’s only when one of the characters breaks through this dense mangrove and heads towards a big river that the isolation really hits home.

Black Water could also have suffered the problem that many films with limited casts have – that the individuals fail to deliver what is needed of them and thus the film collapses around them. With so few people in the film, it’s essential that the three main actors here are all dependable and capable of conveying the psychological damage and stress that their characters are enduring. Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody and Andy Rodoreda aren’t big names but they give realistic, heart-felt performances that we can associate with. They act naturally, logically and don’t make decisions to seemingly further the plot. Every decision they make is to escape, not to provide another opportunity for the film to throw in a cheap scare or gore moment. It’s a pity that they have little to do except hang from trees and gaze at the water for the majority of the film. But in conveying their hopelessness, they’re all spot on.

There’s no animatronic crocodile on display here as far as I can see. The croc is all real and this adds to the authenticity of the situation. However you don’t get to see much of it as Black Water borrows from the best, opting to keep it hidden underneath the surface like in Jaws. The only signals we get to know that the crocodile is still there is the odd ripple in the otherwise still water. The directing duo make good use of some jumpy moments although they’re too few and far between to really impact the viewer. I can understand them wanting to keep the croc quite low-key and keep it lurking in the background but it’s so low-key, you wonder whether it has just swam off looking for more lively victims.

The film writes itself into a virtual hole within the opening twenty minutes and it never manages to recover. It doesn’t take long for the characters to encounter the crocodile and become stranded so what’s left? The rest of Black Water then tries to keep you interested in these characters as they spend their time grabbing hold of the trees and desperately trying to avoid going into the water. And that’s about it really for the rest of the film. They come up with plans to escape but they all involve trying to get to the overturned boat and ultimately meet with disaster when the crocodile reveals its presence again. It’s a rather monotonous sequence of the same scenes over and over again. But in all honesty, this is about the only thing that they can do apart from bicker, cry and worry about their lives. No one knows that they’re missing. Mobile phones have no reception in the middle of nowhere. And the only way out is the boat. It’s hardly a writer’s wildest dream to be lumbered with this predicament and after while, it becomes tiresome and you wish they’d fall in the water and get it done with.

 

Black Water isn’t that bad for a few cheap and limited shocks but runs out of steam quickly and becomes a monotonous cycle of the same scene over and over again. How much mileage can you get from a limited premise like this anyway? Definitely not eighty-nine minutes.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Reef, The (2010)

The Reef (2010)

Pray that you drown first

Four friends set out on a yacht for a week of cruising around the Great Barrier Reef. However it capsizes and they are stranded on the overturned hull. Realising that they have little hope of being rescued, the group has a stark choice: either sit tight on the hull which is drifting further out to sea and in danger of sinking or swim to the nearest land which is twelve miles away. Taking the second option, the group begin to swim for it but they soon come to the realisation that they are being stalked and hunted by a huge 14ft white pointer shark.

 

It’s virtually impossible to do a review for The Reef without at least mentioning Open Water as they’re almost identical films featuring a few unlucky people stranded in the middle of the ocean with more on their minds than worrying about whether they left the front door unlocked before they set out. Open Water was all about the characters and getting to sympathise with their predicament with less focus on the actual sharks. The Reef does a bit of a flip around, focusing more on the shark itself and creating a lot more tension and decent scares in the process. It’s for this reason that it’s way better than Open Water. And that’s the end of the comparison because once the characters get into the water, there’s a lot more going on here.

Director Andrew Traucki made the competent Black Water, a decent timewaster which stretched out a simple idea a bit too long for its own good. He’s back with a similar film, only replacing the crocodile with a killer shark and throwing his characters out into the middle of the Great Barrier Reef instead of the mangroves. The impressive cinematography of Daniel Ardilley is the key to success here, conveying a real sense of isolation and desperation as there’s nothing for miles and miles but water….and the odd shark fin. The shark scenes are highly effective for their use of real-life shark footage which was filmed especially for The Reef. The camera doesn’t linger on the shark but you know it’s there, circling around the group or swimming underneath, waiting for the opportunity to strike. It’s this constant uneasy presence that gives rise to a lot of dramatic tension. The shark can literally strike at any time as there’s no protection from it in the middle of the ocean and you can feel the characters’ dread that any of them could be killed at any moment. Even when one of the characters keeps looking underwater with his goggles to track the shark, it’s pointless as the waters beneath the surface are gloomy and only serve to add to the tension as the shark disappears into the abyss. When the attacks do come, they’re well-executed, leaving most of the gory details off-camera to leave to our imaginations. Though it doesn’t really need much imagination to feel every bite, chew and drag of the shark.

The cast of unknowns do a decent job here although the characters are hardly given much depth apart from their names and the revelation of some brief history between two of them. Let’s face it, as soon as they get into the water we don’t care who they are, what they do, where they come from or how they got there, we just want to see how they’re going to try and get out of the situation they’re in. Still it’s fairly easy to spot which character is going to get eaten and in which order it will happen. It’s this unfortunate predictability which hampers the film in its final third as no matter how much the tension is racked up, we know who is going to die next. Having said that, the constant presence of the shark is enough to put the chills up anyone and adds a shred of unpredictability: you’ll work out who will die next but you won’t know when.

 

 

The Reef is basically Open Water with a lot more shark action. It’s highly effective, gripping in places and does a better job at cranking up tension and drama than 90% of big budget Hollywood films. You will feel just as isolated, helpless and waiting to die as the characters. Just don’t expect to see something you haven’t seen before.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆