Halfway through the summer and we have a killer shark movie releasing onto Shudder and VOD platforms. A shark movie releasing in the dog days of summer isn’t surprising. But The Reef: Stalked is now the fourth shark thriller to swim onto screens this year. This low-budget thriller does have a couple of factors working in its favour. To date, the other shark movies released this year set a very low bar. And writer and director Andrew Traucki has made a handful of decent shark and crocodile movies. So far the critical response has been middling at best.
When Nic finds her sister’s drowned body in the bathtub, she’s left traumatized. Months later she reluctantly joins her friends for a kayaking and diving trip off of an ocean resort. But a Great White Shark disrupts the trip and leaves the group stranded on the ocean. Can Nic overcome her personal fears to save herself and her friends?
The Reef: Stalked Does Its Best to Swim Around Poor Visual Effects
Maybe a prerequisite should be included before funding any movie about a killer shark. If you can’t offer a modestly convincing shark on screen – or creative ways to work around it – no movie. Writer and director Andrew Traucki (Black Water, Black Water: Abyss) has plenty of experience with aquatic horrors having directed the actually pretty decent, The Reef. This experience does come in handy – The Reef: Stalked is head and shoulders above other 2022 killer shark movies, Shark Bait, Blood in the Water, and The Requin. Traucki digs into his filmmaker’s bag of tricks to find as many ways as possible to give audiences a shark movie without a good shark on the screen. Some of these tricks even work. There’s a handful of suspenseful moments and a finale that exceeds low expectations.
When The Reef: Stalked isn’t using stock nature footage it’s left using poor CGI effects to get its shark into the action.
But there’s no getting around the elephant – or Great White -in the room. When The Reef: Stalked isn’t using stock nature footage it’s left using poor CGI effects to get its shark into the action. For the most part, these effects are still a notch above poor Alicia Silverstone’s The Requin. Moreover, Traucki uses frenetic editing as a stand-in for chaos, most likely with the intent of covering up the visual f/x. Unfortunately, there’s no denying that every time the animated shark surfaces what suspense Traucki generates is immediately undercut.
The Reef: Stalked Drags Down Middling Performances With Soggy Melodrama
At least Traucki seems to understand that he doesn’t have the goods to deliver a satisfying shark on screen. To compensate, The Reef: Stalked finds as many ways as possible to drum up drama and suspense without its Great White shark. After all, Spielberg made audiences wait a good hour before giving us a proper look at its shark. But Traucki isn’t Spielberg. And what The Reef: Stalked offers for its first 20 minutes or so is generic characters saddled with generic trauma and past conflicts. After Teressa Liane’s ‘Nic’ finds her sister drowned in a bathtub by an abusive partner, nightmarish visions of the water supposedly make returning to diving traumatic. Will she be able to overcome her fears to help her friends? You probably already know the answer.
But Traucki isn’t Spielberg. And what The Reef: Stalked offers for its first 20 minutes or so is generic characters saddled with generic trauma and past conflicts.
In addition, Traucki loads his shark thriller with inconveniences to create suspense without shark attacks. Paddles are accidentally dropped in the water. A boat motor won’t start. People fall overboard. At the movie’s midway point, The Reef: Stalked introduces children swimming just offshore a remote island. What follows actually manages to add an unexpected kink to the formula. Despite the convoluted nature of these developments, they do add bits of suspense that don’t require a shoddy CGI shark. Arguably, they’re the best part of the movie. None of the cast are going to win any awards here. Still the performances aren’t so bad as to be distracting.
The Reef: Stalked Clears a Low Bar for 2022 Killer Shark Movies
On one hand, The Reef: Stalked isn’t quite as bad as some hostile reviews suggest. To his credit, Traucki is a competent filmmaker who gets more out of his small budget than other directors of more tepid killer shark movies. Bits of suspense occasionally break the surface. And at the very least, The Reef: Stalked is a watchable thriller. Yet ‘watchable’ doesn’t equate with being ‘good’. Poor visual effects, disposable performances, and run-of-the-mill melodrama all but ensure this movie is quickly forgotten.