The Reef Blu-ray Review
The Reef comes cruising in with a sublime AVC transfer that gives the 2.35:1 image a thorough dunking in the deep blue, and keeps things clean, crisp and, appropriately enough, sharp throughout.
This is a film that depends on well the varying shades of blue are depicted. The sea’s ever-changing surface and its colour-tones both beneath and below are perfectly well captured. I’ll have to stop short of stating that the image really places you in the sea alongside the cast because I found only the more scenic “pleasure-dive” sequences to be completely immersive in terms of visual depth and convincing spatiality, whilst the shark-stalking scenes that govern roughly two-thirds of the film, whilst still nicely detailed, had a certain flatness to the underwater views that we see whenever Luke dons his goggles and dips his head in the drink. When the vision is bereft of shark-scared fish, coral, rocks or the sea-bed, the image is probably very accurate to how such a sight would be, but I found a lot of the shark-footage and the POV shots from Luke to be lacking depth, distance and visual variety. However, I am not going to cite this as being a fallibility of the transfer, just a reflection of how some important and visceral scenes appear … as opposed to how we may have liked them to appear.
There is terrific detail on display. Facial texture is often very good indeed. The stars, especially Zoe Naylor, will probably not thank the transfer for how well it renders them. Red-ringed eyes, salt-and-sun dried skin, deathly cold, water-lashed pallors – this all comes across clearly and with a genuine appearance. The earlier scenes, when things are relatively relaxed and harmonious, boast lovely sun-kissed clarity and a warm fidelity. Skin-tones are appropriately tanned and healthy during this stage. Stubble, teeth (human as well as shark) and skin-texture is not overlooked. We have crags and pimples and cracked lips and decent hair-separation. This is a finely detailed image, that’s for sure. Even our shark is afforded some texture and some cleanly delineated markings and scars.
Beyond the blue aesthetic, the transfer handles colours with commendable conviction and a satisfying level of saturation. Blood in the water is rich and red, there is decent shading of the rocks that become stepping stones to salvation during the final stretch, and the ocean and sky hues are never anything less than totally believable. The horrible colour of the mutilated sea-turtle – a ghastly green-brown – is suitably vivid. Contrast is spot-on. I like the brief night-time sequence which casts a weirdly delightful moon-light glow upon the dwindling band of survivors, and the eerie appearance of the moon through the silvery-white clouds. There is also the nice and realistic appearance of both the sun and the moon’s reflection upon the water to help lend an interesting new dimension and to break up the uniformity of vast swathes of the frame. Black levels aren’t problematic either. They are good and deep and strong.
Although there is no smearing, or edge enhancement in the image, and the grain looks authentic and unmolested, I did notice one instance of banding taking place. To be honest, although there shouldn’t be any at all, I still think that this is more than acceptable for a film whose rather intense palette could be quite challenging in this department.
I've got no complaints about the audio transfer for the film. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track makes no mistakes and does a fine job of placing us in the middle of the ocean, bobbing up and down beside the shark-bait. But I have to say that the original sound-design isn't really all that enthralling. It does enough, I suppose, but somehow I had expected more from it in the way of effects, watery ambience and pulverising shock tactics.
We get some tremendous underwater ambience as we first bob beneath the waves as the quartet begin their soggy sojourn in search of sanctuary, which emanates from all around us and really helps to place us in the environment, but this fantastic and wholly believable effect is not kept up throughout. Again, this is not a fault of the transfer but an observation about how the sound-design was accomplished. There are many such shots and the audio experience would have benefited tenfold from having such effects brought into play each time we sank beneath the surface.
But the track is still a good one, folks.
The score comes over well. It is a minimal composition from Rafael May (who also scored Black Water for Traucki) for the most part but it is ominously effective. Deep tones and menacing chords illustrate the severity of the situation and create a spectral and haunting quality of alienation and despair. The score comes alive during that final lung-stretching swim for safety, and although I don’t actually like the cue, itself, it is presented with pace and power. Dialogue is always excellently reproduced. It is clear and credible to the situation. Voices aren’t drowned-out and there is an agreeable sense of distance afforded them from the close-knit group shots to the shouting that occurs whenever one of the party moves off on some foolhardy errand. The muffled voices and thumps that Luke hears as he searches the inside of the upturned boat are nicely conveyed – almost indistinct, but with key words latched on to with macabre perceptibility. These sounds emanate convincingly from over our heads.
Dynamics are good. There are some sharp encounters that jangle the nerves and spike their way out of the soundmix with some considerable gusto. Rushing water and the sense of animalistic momentum come across with the appropriate speed and aggression. The lapping of the water is natural and the deeper impacts – the shearing of the hull and the score-accentuated attacks, for instance – have plenty of clout. This is not an overtly bombastic film, however. It plays more of the lulling sense of tranquillity and the swift shattering of such a temporary condition. The surrounds are certainly brought into play, but there isn't really anything about their use that struck me as hugely involving or amply exciting beyond what was required. But they do help to sustain and to spread out the evocative mood of the mix.
Overall, this is fine and solid stuff that packs a wallop when necessary, but doesn't, ahem, go overboard.
It's a pretty threadbare assortment here, folks.
We get the film's trailer and a 23-minute making-of entitled The Reef – Shooting With Sharks. This is basically a big pat-on-the-back for all concerned with the production by all those concerned with the production. All the principles get to discuss their roles and how much they love and admire what their companions, and the director, brought to the screen. The director waxes lyrical about all of them in turn. We see the shoot – in remarkably shallow water – and we hear about the debilitating effect that non-stop watery immersion had upon them. All of this cringe-worthy and somewhat tedious. But the show does then move on to reveal to us how Traucki managed to gain his real shark footage, and this does, at least, boast the terrific and utterly heart-jolting instance when a real Great White plays commando and takes him by surprise to have a nibble on the camera-housing. Tiny segments mention the score and the post-production compositing process.
This is passable fare, but horribly light and fluffy.
We really could have done with more here. An ensemble commentary would certainly have gone down well. The cast and crew all seemed to get along very well, and this could have been quite entertaining.
Well, this isn’t a tough one.
If you love shark films, or just enjoy the palpable fear of being trapped in a supremely hostile environment and being placed at the utter mercy of something primal, unforgiving and ferocious, then The Reef will work some sadistic magic upon you. The sense of indefensible vulnerability is tremendously well-wrung. The sheer credibility of being stuck adrift in the middle of a vast and unmerciful sea convinces. The unrelenting, gut-shrivelling terror of something monstrous circling around you and simply choosing its time to strike is a massive leveller – super-jock, nerd, girl, boy … you’re nothing but fresh meat.
With Black Water, Andrew Traucki proved that he was adept at creating suspense and dread and unparalleled tension with the interaction of humans and un-challenged natural predators. But The Reef goes several notches of isolation and terror beyond that. The cast are extremely believable. There’s little precious showboating, and no limelight-hogging. The air of a frightened, yet close-knit group is tangible and the terrifying predicament that befalls them is handled with such convincing hysterics and desperate heroism that it is hard to mock the ensuing waterlogged bedlam. If I had to complain it would be that the gorehound in me would inevitably have loved more carnage … and that the film may possibly lose a lot of impact when viewed a second time. It really is a one-shot experience that, unlike some other nightmare-flicks, could jettison screams like there's no tomorrow when revisited.
Image Entertainment's disc is lacking extras. A cast commentary would have been excellent. But the transfer makes up for it. An often dazzling image is coupled with an audio mix that doesn’t go overboard but adheres very strictly and naturally to the onscreen circumstances.
There are certainly more enjoyable shark movies out there – and you know perfectly well which ones. But, overall, this is a terrific knuckle-whitener that will definitely make you think twice about dipping your tootsies in the deep blue sea.
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