The Reef: Stalked – ostensibly an incredibly late sequel to 2010’s The Reef, but not really – has the wildest opening of any sharksploitation movie, maybe ever. I don’t say that lightly; it’s truly insane. Even weirder, there are no sharks involved. In fact, for the first twenty minutes or so, you might find yourself wondering, to paraphrase Trinity the Tuck, where are the sharks!? Thankfully, once it gets going and the four main stars are plonked down in the middle of the ocean with nowhere to, er, swim, The Reef: Stalked becomes a fast-paced, entertaining, and surprisingly scary little creature feature.
Our heroine is Nic (a fully committed Teressa Liane), who’s returning home after leaving town following her sister’s murder, at the hands of a partner so obviously abusive it makes every subsequent claim that “nobody knew what she was going through” increasingly, gratingly insulting. Nic didn’t witness her sister’s death, but she did find the body. For some reason, the movie conflates this idea with Nic having literally watched her strangled and drowned, and it keeps flashing back to it throughout. How this idea made it past the initial brainstorming phase is baffling; it’s beyond clunky and only gets worse the longer it’s employed (which is right up until the end, annoyingly), adding nothing of value.
You may be hoping a shark chomps down on the abuser in question, but he never shows up again. In fact, we don’t even get to hear what happens to him, though presumably he’s in prison since there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that he committed the crime in question. Anyway, cut to a year later and Nic is joining Jodie (Ann Truong), Annie (Saskia Archer) and Lisa (Kate Lister) for a days-long kayaking trip across the open water, in honor of their dearly departed friend, who notably loved to dive too. Before you know it, Annie is claiming, with impressive earnestness, “that thing is STALKING us!” as the foursome battles to make it back to dry land before becoming shark food.
Let’s get this out of the way, The Reef: Stalked is not a smart movie. Having said that, it’s not mind-numbingly stupid either. Aside from Annie staring a bit too long into the ocean rather than rowing away from the fin she just saw, the characters mostly act responsibly and decisively once they realize they’re in danger. Placing the women in kayaks leaves the foursome in a deliciously exposed position, particularly the further they get out into the ocean. The camera swoops around handsomely to demonstrate how isolated they are, and how far from safety. Moreover, the movie looks to have been shot out at sea, rather than in a tank, which always helps sell the concept more. Consider something like The Requin, which was so lazy the CGI water wasn’t even properly rendered, and it’s easy to appreciate the gently ominous lap of the waves against their kayaks.
There are plenty of shots of dangling legs – the bread and butter of shark movies – while characters routinely pop up out of the water without warning, for something I’m going to term “friend scares,” aka the new “cat scares.” Meanwhile, the footage of real-life sharks swimming around, minding their own business, is cleverly interwoven with shots of the characters looking terrified and trying not to splash around too much. There are even a handful of moments where it’s tough to spot the joins, including when the shark in question seems to chomp down a whole kayak – one of the strongest scares involves it swimming under a boat with another kayak attached to its body – and when it lurches out of the water to attack.
The Reef: Stalked, which is written and directed by The Reef’s Andrew Traucki, keeps things relatively simple, which is refreshing considering how ludicrously overcomplicated sharksploitation has become lately – to the subgenre’s great detriment. There’s a Jaws-lite theme tune, more urgent and louder for modern audiences, naturally, that does the job nicely and the characters seem to be in genuine peril throughout, likely due to the demonstrably physically demanding shoot. There’s one shot of what appears to be a computer-generated fin that doesn’t convince, but for the most part it’s easy to believe there’s something lurking in the depths below, thanks to the strength of the performances and the solid scene setting, which makes for a surprisingly frightening thrill ride.
The body count is kind of low, with just one confirmed shark kill, which is disappointing coming from the guy who gave us the viciously violent Black Water and sequel Black Water: Abyss. However, considering how many believably close calls there are, it doesn’t matter too much. There’s nobody we’re really rooting to meet their end either, aside from the abusive boyfriend, so it makes a certain amount of sense that everybody doesn’t succumb to a watery death just because. At the same time, a few more kills would’ve gone a long way towards making this one an all-timer. As it stands, The Reef: Stalked doesn’t ascend to the heights – or should that be depths? – of The Shallows, but it’s nowhere near as cynically superfluous as The Requin. A fine way to spend your time, particularly if you’re in the mood for something toothier.
Catch The Reef: Stalked in theaters and streaming on Shudder from July 29, 2022
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Andrew Traucki
Writer(s): Andrew Traucki
Stars: Teressa Liane, Ann Truong, Saskia Archer, Kate Lister
Release date: July 29, 2022 (in theaters and on Shudder)
Run Time: 93 minutes