To paraphrase a Norwegian commentator when it comes to shark films over the past decade or so; sharks have taken ‘a hell of a beating’. Sharknado was the catalyst leading to a whole sub-genre of cheapo shark films with some unbelievable scenarios, Ghost Shark anyone? The Reef was released during this period and was a burst of fresh sea air relying on taught direction and suspense.

We now have The Reef: Stalked which introduces four friends two of whom are sisters enjoying the coast around Australia, seemingly with not a care in the world. This is shattered when Nic’s (Teressa Liane) sister Cath (Bridget Burt) is murdered sending her into a depression that sees her leave Australia, and her other sister Annie (Saskia Archer) to deal with the aftermath of the killing.

Returning some nine months later Nic reunites with Jodie (Ann Truong) and Lisa (Kate Lister) and, to her surprise, Annie, who had never previously shown much interest in the sea. Boarding kayaks they set off on a vacation that they hope will provide some solace. However it’s not long before a shark’s fin cuts through the water towards them, and an attack sends Annie and Lisa into the ocean.

This complicates when they see two children playing aboard a brittle platform off an island that collapses as soon as the shark hits it. On reaching the island the women find themselves effectively stranded forcing them to take decisions to confront the shark and their own traumas.

The problem with many of these terror at sea films is keeping the interest of the viewer over the length of the film, as open sea can be pretty boring. Both The Reef and Open Water solve this, though in different ways. The Reef relies on nerve shredding tension, while Open Water is much more personal as the two adrift in the sea become more and more stressed as the reality of their situation dawns on them.

The Reef: Stalked tries to have it both ways and doesn’t quite pull it off. Returning director and writer Andrew Traucki keeps a tight hand on the direction building tension with great use of the POV camera. When the women are on the kayaks or in the water and the shark attacks, it brilliantly forces the viewer into the actors’ world building great suspense or plunged into the chaos of an attack.

What doesn’t work quite so well is Nic’s trauma after her sister’s murder, her subsequent global trek, leaving Annie to cope, returning with a nervousness of the sea. This psychological aspect – represented by flashbacks to Cath’s death and body in the bath – together with her sibling conflict doesn’t sit that well within the film and jars the pacing.

Credit though for using the bathos of the characters to deepen the story and not having to rely on constant shark attacks which itself could become tedious in a film that is high on tension and low on actual body count.

The Reef: Stalked will be on digital platforms from 29 July and DVD 8 August.

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