‘Open Water’ (2003) And ‘The Reef’ (2010) – Shark-Infested Survival Horror Greats

Both Open Water and The Reef are well-done shark attack movies, but why do they resonate with some people as being classic?

Some people don’t like killer shark movies, and not just because they dislike horror films. They just feel that sharks are given a bad rap. One of the characters in The Reef even says something like,”You’re more likely to die from a bee sting…” than from a shark. That quote has an obvious irony given what happens in the story. It’s also true that, when people say shark attacks are rare, it’s comforting. To a degree, people convince themselves to feel less like potential prey items. Human beings have this belief that, when push comes to shove, they’re at the top of the food chain. They are always safe, and things like shark attacks won’t ever happen to them. To comfort themselves, they’ll pretend that nature is nothing but a benign phenomenon, and that we’re above it. In fact, it’s often argued that humans are a greater threat to animals, and to nature itself.

All this is understandable, and there’s definitely truth in slamming our environmental degradation. However, let’s not kid ourselves: Sharks are fierce, and they tear living things up for a living. They are the ultimate predators, and we should indeed retain a natural fear of them. We are a part of nature and its creatures and their bites can kill us.

That’s why Open Water and The Reef are such wonderful films. They remind us that ordinary people can go off on an adventure, have things go wrong in a very simple way, and risk being brutally devoured by nature. It also has us wondering how we would react, and whether or not we would be better equipped for such events should they ever happen to us.

Are These Horror Movies? Yes!

For whatever reason, some people exaggerate the need for genre distinctions. They’ll say, “Oh, that’s more of a thriller than a horror movie,” or dismiss movies as horror because they lack enough blood and guts. Others require a human killer, usually big and bulky, and most often wearing a mask. In all honesty, isn’t any movie that scares you a horror movie? Nevertheless, Open Water and The Reef did a sufficient job of making sharks scary again (even though, after Jaws, they never really stopped being scary). As the characters are crowded in by the predators, there’s also this great, overwhelming sense that they have been abandoned. It’s also the cruelty of fate, which turns a fun trip into a hellish nightmare.

As I watched The Reef, I was thinking back to something I’ve heard about sharks: “Bop them on the nose and they’ll go away.” However, as I see Zoe Naylor’s character, Kate, momentarily paralyzed by fear, I begin to wonder if I’d even remember such advice, especially when the shark is a massive Great White. Wouldn’t some sharks be harder to scare off than others, just as some people would be easier for a shark to eat?

Which Movie is Better? Depends on What You Want

This is a rare case where, even if pressed, I’d have a tough time deciding which film is better. Some prefer Open Water because it came out first, but The Reef isn’t quite a rip-off movie, and is similarly based on a true story. Thematically, Open Water reminds us that the slightest mistake can ruin lives, and it focuses more directly on its two central characters, Daniel (Daniel Travis) and Susan (Blanchard Ryan). This gives us a better appreciation of their particular relationship. The two try not to give up hope, but how could despair not come into play? It seems like an inescapable fate as mortality intermingles with the encroaching sharks.

At the same time, The Reef is a bit different in its character dynamics, but not in the acceptance of bleak, cruel reality. By giving us a few more characters, we are confronted with more possible options for what these people might decide to do (or what we might decide in their place). For example, Kieran Darcy-Smith’s character, Warren, decides to stay with the sinking boat as the others choose to swim for an island. They try to talk him into following along with them, but he refuses. Ultimately, they decide to leave him, and to not dwell on the situation, lest they panic themselves further in an already compromising and dangerous situation.

What can I say? Both films deliver the goods! Let us know what you think in the comments!

About wadewainio

Wade is a wannabe artist and musician (operating under the moniker Grandpa Helicopter), and an occasional radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton. He is an occasional writer for Undead Walking, and also makes up various blogs of his own. He even has a few books in the works. Then again, doesn't everyone?

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