THE REEF: STALKED *** Australia 2022 Dir: Andrew Traucki. 92 mins
In the decade or so between THE REEF and its sequel, writer-director Andrew Traucki has operated on similar ground, unleashing THE JUNGLE (2013) and 2020’s BLACK WATER: ABYSS. Like the latter, THE REEF: STALKED is a belated sequel to a well-received natural horror film with an all-new, similarly small cast and a similar scenario. It also continues Traucki’s preference for largely avoiding CGI in favour of carefully superimposed footage of real sharks. It’s a solid, suspenseful sequel, with better performances than its predecessor, beautiful location work and a couple of good jolts – though you won’t find any genuine surprises.
The prologue introduces a quartet of scuba diving pals – “Just like book club with fish and spear guns” – who suffer a tragedy after their latest adventure: the sister of heroine Nic (Teressa Liane) is killed by her abusive other half. Nic deals with the trauma by running away for a while but remains haunted by grief and guilt. Nine months later, she reunites with pals Jodie (Ann Truong) and Lisa (Kate Lister), alongside younger sister Annie (Saskia Archer), for a Tequila-enhanced kayaking / diving trip in tribute to the departed member of the group. Naturally, there’s a predator lurking in the deceptively gorgeous waters.
There’s nothing new about the traumatic backstory or the obligatory below-surface, subjective shots of vulnerable fleshy legs in the water – but the all-female cast is worth rooting for. Traucki employs standard-issue false scares to punctuate the steady build up, while the experienced, initially calm Lisa casually dismisses an initial shark sighting (the creatures referred to in surfer speak as “the man in the grey suit”), offering hollow reassurance: “They’re pretty timid usually – it’s the big ones you have to suit”. Alas, one such big one proves to be in relentless pursuit of the cast, with the addition of a pair of fleetingly imperilled island kids. The need to resolve existing tensions and resentments between the main characters alternates with aggressive shark encounters.
If we’re going to compare THE REEF: STALKED to recent, standout movies in the shark attack cycle, it’s admittedly not nearly as butt-clenchingly tense as 47 METERS DOWN, nor as impressively bonkers as its sequel – though, like THE SHALLOWS, it does have some engagingly outré methods of attempting to capture and kill the shark. The decision to largely avoid digital FX remains admirable and, if most of the strategically placed “monster” appearances are telegraphed, there’s at least one that will make you jump – and it’s never dull.
Review by Steven West
THE REEF: STALKED will be released in the USA, in theatres and streaming on SHUDDER 29th July 2022 from RLJE.