Summer of Horror: The Reef & The Shallows Killer shark double feature!

What’s more Summer-appropriate than a killer shark movie? TWO killer shark movies! In this case, I also happened to watch them back to back, which may have actually been a mistake, because they are so similar in so many ways that I need to concentrate hard to avoid mixing up the details. They’re both from the 2010’s, both involve people trapped in the water with virtually no solid ground to stand on, and they’re even a single point apart on Rotten Tomatoes’ score.

The Shallows (2016)

OK, we’ll start with the one with Blake Lively. Here, she plays a surfer trapped on a tiny mound of rock being circled by a Great White, about 200 yards from the shore. The “island”, as it were, is so small it’s only above the water line during low tide, which adds a ticking clock element (a nasty bite on the leg doesn’t help matters).

I’ll just say it: I never really “got” Blake Lively as an actress. She’s certainly attractive and does a fine job carrying a movie as practically the only human actor for most of the run time, but I never thought she really had that star-making element. Again, she makes all the material work, from the athleticism to the agony to the grit and tenacity needed for a survival movie. But I also believe you could have swapped her for about a dozen other actresses around the same age and not lost anything.

As for the rest of the film, it’s lean and simple. “Figure out how to get off the rock without being eaten”. The brisk hour and a half runtime is perfect for this sort of thing, and it keeps the suspense bubbling most of the time, with only a small handful of gory bits. I’d probably give it a 7 out of 10.

The Reef (2010)

Now The Reef. This is the one with five people that wind up on a small capsized sailboat. Same problem: There’s a big Great White shark determined to make a meal out of them. However, this group is much farther from land. They reckon it’s several miles to the nearest island, and need to decide whether it’s possible to swim the distance without dying, or stay on the ruined boat not knowing where the current will take them.

Watching two somewhat similar shark movies back to back reveals little differences in the levels of direction, acting and production values that I wouldn’t otherwise have picked up. Compared to The Shallows, The Reef feels a tiny bit less polished, more gritty, and probably lower budget. Five no-name (to Americans) actors versus a single big name actor. But really, these contrasts are only brought out when virtually viewing the movies side by side as I did.

Minor spoiler perhaps, but most of the action here takes place in the open water, so the shark becomes more of an unpredictable element, coming and going at random, instead of the ever-present threat in The Shallows. A bigger group of potential victims puts it more in the horror camp, though still very much with a foot in the survival genre.

My personal rating? Well… 7 out of 10! Seriously, these two movies are SO similar, it’s hard for me to really put one over the other. I’d say I slightly preferred The Shallows though. The direction, cinematography and acting are just a tiny notch above, despite the use of CGI for the shark effects versus the real deal.

As for killer shark movies in general, while they make for great thematically-appropriate Summer of Horror viewing, they’re just not really my brand of vodka. And that’s odd, because in real life I’m quite terrified of creatures of the deep, sharks included. Seeing them on screen doesn’t really translate that terror well enough. But thinking of them more as “thrillers” brings my expectations into proper alignment. Check both of these out if it’s your particular wheelhouse.

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