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AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug confronts his fears and interviews Andrew Traucki, director of THE REEF! Plus a review of the film!

Logo by Kristian Horn

What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I had a chance to talk with director Andrew Traucki about his new film, THE REEF. But first, I thought I’d repost my review of the film from last Friday’s AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column.

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

THE REEF Review!
Interview with THE REEF Director Andrew Traucki!

Available on DVD today!

THE REEF (2010)

Directed by Andrew Traucki
Written by Andrew Traucki, James M. Vernon
Starring Damian Walshe-Howling, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering, Zoe Naylor, Kieran Darcy-Smith
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Out of all the films I’ve reviewed this week, THE REEF is the one I whole-heartedly recommend most of all. As I explain in each column’s intro, there is nothing more frightening to me than a shark. Maybe it’s something engrained in my primal being. Maybe I was chomped in half by one when I was a kid. No matter what the reason, merely seeing a shark on screen scares the piddle out of me. Director / writer Andrew Traucki is counting on this fear throughout THE REEF and delivers a nerve-shredding lost at sea masterpiece from beginning to end. Shot on a limited budget, Traucki makes do with every trick he has and offers a convincing tale of survival pitting man vs. the most dangerous sea predator on the planet; the great white shark.

A quintet of beautiful people set out on a snorkeling cruise along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. When their boat capsizes and overturns after hitting a reef, the group must decide whether they want to die of dehydration on the boat or brave shark infested waters. Knowing what you know now about me, you know which I would choose, but this group chooses to take their chances in the water. The cast, lead by impressive leading man with the coolest name I’ve ever heard of Damian Walshe-Howling are all pretty damn impressive and they had better be because the film hinges on their performances as they swim along the open sea. Walshe-Howling commands the screen every second that he on it as a good intentioned sailor who convinces the group to swim to an island no one can see. Zoe Naylor is also very good in this as Walshe-Howling’s estranged girlfriend. The emotional core of the film rests on these two and the likeability of these actors makes it easy to root for these two to make it to shore.

I hate director Andrew Traucki for making such an effective shark film. He pulls out all of the stops, taking full advantage of the fear of what’s below the surface of the water, focusing most of the time on the fearful faces of the humans bobbing above water. Traucki cleverly uses the limitation that only one of the swimmers possesses a diving mask to look and see what’s swimming around down there. The audience only sees the flurry of shark activity underwater when Walshe-Howling does when he bobs underwater. By doing this, the viewer, much like the rest of the three swimmers are blind most of the time, only knowing what terror brews beneath in the splash filled frantic scans Walshe-Howling witnesses with the goggles. It’s a clever way to manipulate the viewer and I fell for it every damn time.

I guarantee you will have a fear-filled toe-curling good time being scared at this film. THE REEF will make you pull your legs up tight into you whether you’re in water or not. It is a film that had me out of my seat and literally screaming for the swimmers to get to shore. And the underwater scenes of the shark barreling toward the viewer reminded me of the stuff of my worst nightmares. THE REEF is an absolutely horrifying good time and one of the best shark films since JAWS. I’m interviewing director Andrew Traucki this weekend and will post it next week. In the mean time, trust me and check out THE REEF when it’s released on DVD next week!

Ambush Bug interviews
THE REEF Director Andrew Traucki!

Ambush Bug again. So last Friday, I had a chance to talk with director Andrew Traucki about it awesome new film, THE REEF which is available on DVD today! Being deathly afraid of sharks, I confronted Mr. Traucki about adding some new nightmares into my head. Here’s the interview…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Pardon the pun, but I’ll dive right into the interview. I don’t know Andrew if you’ve had a chance to check the website today on Ain’t It Cool, but I did get a chance to review THE REEF and I loved the film. It was a fantastic movie.

ANDREW TRAUCKI (AT): Oh fantastic.

BUG: It scared the hell out of me. I watched it a few days ago and I was literally pulling my feet up to my body and bouncing around the couch in fear and excitement while I was watching the last half of the film. What type of reactions have you received from people who have seen the film?

AT: Yeah, well that is one. We’ve got a Facebook Page and I’ve read all sorts of comments like “This is scary” and “Oh my God, I’m freaking out…” So a friend of mine actually saw it and it seems that he had a similar reaction to you, so it seems to me like I’m getting a lot of reactions where it’s scared the bejeezus out of them, so yeah it’s what I wanted to do and it’s very gratifying to hear that I actually managed to do it. I’m glad I scared you.

BUG: Great, yeah. It was a lot of fun; I love being scared. (Laughs) In my review I called it “The best shark film since JAWS.”

AT: Thank you very much. That’s a great privilege.

BUG: Is it hard to make a shark film and not have it compared to Spielberg’s film?

AT: It’s impossible. (Laughs) I don’t know what other genre that that might happen in. I don’t know, but every first reference is JAWS every time. I mean you have got to remember what that film was, it wasn’t just only a great film. It was the beginning of the blockbuster. It was epic. It’s mythological, that film. It’s huge, so I knew that was going to happen and I just tried to keep away from it as much as possible. I didn’t watch JAWS during the making of it or anything like that, I just wanted to make sure that I could distinguish myself from it, but yeah it’s a great honor to be compared to that and be told it’s the scariest shark film since then. Thank you very much, I appreciate that.

BUG: Sure, sure. What do you think about sharks… What do you think makes them so scary other than the giant teeth and everything? The name of my column on Ain’t It Cool News is “Zombies and Sharks,” because those are the two things that scare the hell out of me. What do you think it is that makes them so scary?

AT: I just think it’s amazing that I was able to make a film about something that’s in the name of your title in it. I really think it’s quite a primitive thing. David Nerlich and I made this crocodile film called BLACK WATER and I think we humans being around big creatures that have eaten us for millions of years… I think it’s a really primal thing that we are aware that we are top dogs in terms of intelligence, but in terms of physical strength there are still things out there that can do us damage and sharks are definitely high up on that list and I was scared just being around them, because I was filming them for four days, some really big ones. You just realize that they are just such masters of their elements; they are just so good at what they do that you wouldn’t really stand a chance. I think between the big teeth, the genetic thing, and they are really good at what they do. I think that all kind of makes them scary.

BUG: Definitely. Well like you said you worked on BLACK WATER, so is this just your second film?

AT: Yeah, second feature.

BUG: Okay, so are all of your films going to take place in water? There seems to be a theme I’m seeing here.

[Both Laugh]

AT: I sent myself an email while working on THE REEF with “Don’t work in water ever again!” I’m really hoping they are not all going to be in water, because quite frankly it’s incredibly exhausting and taxing and it’s not something you take on lightheartedly. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong and there’s a lot of pain and discomfort and you know working around water everything is difficult like those currents, so you’d set your actor and you’d set your camera and then you turn your back to them to talk to some one and then all of a sudden everything is drifting away. There’s this constant… It’s impossible to hit a mark, because there is no mark to start with, but then you can’t just take your way with the place. It was difficult, don’t do it.

BUG: I watched the making of featurette on the DVD and it looked like you guys filmed a lot of the scenes in pretty shallow water. Is that correct? How deep was the water you were in?

AT: We filmed in shallow waters some of the time definitely to help with the logistics, because you know day-to-day was incredibly brutal with everything moving around the place. It is very difficult, you loose a lot of time and this was a very fast shoot, so we did film some in shallow water. That is correct.

BUG: Did you have any close calls with any wildlife while you were filming? Any real sharks or any other sea creatures while you guys were filming that part of it?

AT: There were definitely a lot of special animals that kept reminding you they were real. There’s nothing like a sort of unexplained splash off to the right to get everyone going “What the hell was that?” So that was a laugh, but then our lead actor, Damian Walshe-Howling, who was fantastic, accidentally got stuck on a pointed fish, we think it was a stone fish, which is a very lethal fish and it turned out… He came up to me and it looked like someone had poked a whole in his toe like he was bit by a snake. He was in the most extreme state of fear and shock I have ever seen on someone’s face and we just had to call an ambulance straight away and get him rushed to the hospital and he was on morphine for a day. So that was not a good experience, but it’s not like… You know, you think when you are making a shark film that the danger might be the sharks, not a small little reef fish that ends up almost killing your star, so when you shoot in a funny place like that you’ve got lots of funny things.

BUG: You mentioned Damian Walshe-Howling and I mentioned in my review that he really is a strong actor; he gives a real powerful performance in there. How did he become cast for the film?

AT: You know, my directorial style that I believe in with working with actors is I think the biggest part of the job is picking the right people. I really auditioned hard and long, because I think you are really going to reap the rewards when you find and intelligent good actor that understands the screenplay and who you are going to be able to work with. You’ve got to find someone who’s right; otherwise the whole way through the film you’re dreading the fact that you had that person. I looked long and hard and Damian just came up with all of the right qualities. He looks fantastic in this kind of film, he’s a brilliant actor, and he’s kind what I think is that X factor and he can just turn it on and off. He would always add like three or four things to the scene and he was just a delight to work with and really he’s just strong. He was the first person out of the four main characters that I had cast and then from there I started auditioning people around him, so they had to look good next to him and that sort of thing. So Damian was very pivotal to how I went about casting.

BUG: So he was the first you said that was cast in the film?

AT: Yeah. He was the first one I chose and from them on I started doing the character dynamics around him with that whole Kate role and then Shane and Matt… Yeah, he was the first.

BUG: Okay, you said that your film was based on a true story, does your film deviate from that story very much or is it pretty accurate to the entire thing?

AT: In terms of the events I had to change it in terms of the number of people and the characterization otherwise I could be sued, because I could have misrepresented someone, so I can tell you the story is definitely truthful in that a boat did sink off the coast of Australia close to a reef and three people decided to try and swim to the near by reef and a shark came along and started picking them off one by one. So that’s the truth of that, so I think it’s pretty close to my film and what all I changed were the number of characters and who they were so that I wouldn’t be sued.

BUG: Okay. There’s a point in the movie where the survivors have to make a decision whether to stay on the boat or they take their chances in the water. What would you do at that point?

AT: (Laughs) I was about to ask you the same question.

BUG: I’d definitely be on the boat for sure.

AT: You would stay on the boat, would you?

BUG: Yeah, I’d stay on the boat. I like to see my feet at all times. How about you?

AT: Look I’ve done so much reading on this and what’s good about that I think is that those are two hard choices, neither of them are easy. Either of them might be right or might be wrong. I’ve read a lot of survival stories like one about a boat sinking down the coastline with two people, one guy swam and one guy didn’t. Finally the guy who swam made it and the guy that didn’t swim never was found. Usually I thin they tell you to stay on the boat, that’s what all of the survival memos say, but I’ve got a lot of energy so I think I’d get sit too long and then go “Bugger it, let’s go for a swim.”

BUG: Were you tempted to show more of what was going on at the boat interspersed between later on in the film? I know the group kind of splits up there. I know there’s a point where you cut back to the boat, but it only happens once I think and then the rest of the film is pretty much following the people who are swimming. Were you ever tempted to go back to the boat and see what happens?

AT: Yes. So I’ll be truthful with you and tell you there was a whole other scene there that we deleted, because in the end it just felt really B grade and sharkspoitation rather than real. We shot a whole other scene where he fell in the water and gets eaten by these other sharks. We had that in the film and we watched it and it was like “This is just not the right kind of film. This film is about realism and a real event and in this event we wouldn’t know what happened, because he stayed behind.” But it felt wrong. It felt like “Oh my gosh, we’ve gone from this really tight real thriller to this big red shark out moment.” So in the end we cut it and what I should have done… In hindsight what I would have liked to have done is showing the boat slowing sinking and him just left over. I find that very interesting and a few people have mentioned that we never get back to that guy, because they really like him and want to know what happened to him, but the reality is we did shoot a scene where he got eaten, but it was just to B grade to put in the film. (Laughs)

BUG: I was just wondering, because I would have been that guy back on the boat, so I was just wondering “What would have happened to me?”

[Both Laugh]

AT: Yeah and you know it would have been interesting to see what happened, because that boat was sinking and would have ended up in the water eventually as well I think.

BUG: Okay. So what was it like filming with the real sharks? In the featurette you said that you went out further down the coast and in deeper water where sharks lived and you did a lot of filming there. Was it difficult?

AT: Yeah it was difficult. I mean we had to go out to these islands which you see in the featurette and you know after being out there for four days I was scared to piss of the hanging off the side of the boat, but then whether the sharks would appear or not… They are wild creatures and do what they like and sometimes they would and then there would be many, many hours where you would be boating up and nothing would happen and you’re like “Wow, well I really hope to get the footage for this film, because we can’t really afford to come back down here and shoot this again.” Thankfully they turned up enough times. Between me and the cameraman, we managed to get enough shark footage, but it was difficult. It was very taxing to be there and just wondering “When are these creatures going to turn up?” Then when they did show up it was amazing, because quite often they would just turn up, hit that surface, and then they are gone, so you wouldn’t have much time to actually capture what they were doing, they would just be doing it and then they’d be gone. It was difficult, but I kept having this feeling that “If I ever get eaten by a shark, I wont mind much, because they are such amazing animals.” I also don’t paddle out every day thinking about that. (Laughs)

BUG: I also mentioned in my review that you do a really clever thing by giving only one of the people a set of goggles to actually see underneath the water and everyone else is basically bobbing around blindly. They are really relying on Damian to be their guide and I’m sure this was intentional. Can you go into a little bit more detail about that?

AT: Yeah, sure. So to distinguish myself from BLACK WATER and various other films I wanted to be able to see the shark. I didn’t want it to just be a totally implied threat and so therefore “somebody must have a pair of goggles, because if not how are they going to see it?” So I think I only wanted one set of goggles, but I agree having one set is much worse because the poor… Imagine if you couldn’t see, if there was a guy with you with a big shark around and he could see it, but you couldn’t. Isn’t that a horrible thing? I just think that’s horrible. I’d want to know. I’d want to be able to see it. I’d try to defend myself or whatever and you can’t, so that to me made me squint. I thought that would be a great device.
BUG: Yeah, it really makes it so much more terrifying. How about you, are you afraid of sharks yourself?

AT: Yeah, I mean I don’t know anyone who isn’t other than that crazy guy who swims with them without a cage. I’m terrified of sharks, but have surfed for a long time and I haven’t actually been eaten, so I’m kind of betting on the odds of it being alright and the chances are pretty slim. If I just use the rational side of my brain to ease the total fear that I have to them, that usually works well. There have been times when I’ve been out there where I’ve just gone “This is spooky, I’m getting out of this water!”

[Both Laugh]

BUG: Does working with them, live sharks, does that make you less afraid or more afraid with the more time you spend in their with them?

AT: Probably more afraid in the sense of how quick they are. If one of those guys decides to come up to you, you wouldn’t have a chance. They are brilliant predators. When I came back originally it was really hard for me, because I didn’t have a lot of energy with all of those images of big fish in my head, but like I said you get to the point where you just get on with it “It’s alright, it wont happen…” I managed to convince myself… I deluded myself that I was all right, but yeah that’s scary. There’s no doubt about it, (Laughs) you’re right with your column “Sharks and Zombies…” They are scary.

BUG: So what’s next for you? Is there another water saga up for you? What are you working on now?

AT: So I’m working on ABC’S OF DEATH, which I don’t know if you heard of, but it’s an anthology where all sorts of directors have been given a letter and they have to make a small film that kills people in 26 different ways and so they’re going to put the little films and make a feature out of it. So I’ll be working on that.

BUG: Very cool. Is there anything else that you are working on now?

AT: Yeah, I’m working on another horror, really a trilogy of creature films, so I can have my trilogy. So I’m working on a script for that, but I’m very suspicious and rightly so about discussing films until they are funded, because there’s just too much a chance of them getting made. As you are raising financing you can’t be announcing it like another shark film or another crocodile film or whatever is getting made to tell you the truth, but there is something I’m working on and I hope that it will be a rather good creature to make my trilogy and then get away from them.

BUG: Understood. Hopefully we can talk again and talk a little bit more in depth about it, but I really want to congratulate you again on a fantastic film. Is there anything else you’d like to tell the AICN audience that we didn’t already talk about?

AT: You know, I appreciate you guys getting behind me, because every filmmaker wants people to see their film. Just check out the Facebook Page. The website has got some footage on the making of that shot where the shark hits the camera. It’d be cool if they could check out the Facebook and the website, but otherwise you know it’s a pretty fun experience and I’m glad to hear that its scaring people.

BUG: Great, well thanks again. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. Again it’s a great film and it scared the hell out of me, so thank you for that.

[Both Laugh]

AT: Fantastic. Thanks for writing the review; as soon as we finish I’m going to go read it. Thanks.

BUG: Great. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.

AT: You too, bye.

BUG: THE REEF is available on DVD today! Find out more about THE REEF on Facebook and it’s website. It really is a fantastic film that will scare the hell out of you!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!

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