Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the shark attacks are back in The Reef: Stalked! We had the chance to speak with writer and director Andrew Traucki, who also directed the 2010 predecessor The Reef, as well as other Aussie horrors like Black Water and The Jungle. We talked about returning to The Reef, the themes of the new sequel, filming during COVID, and our love of shark movies.
The Plot: After her sister’s murder, Nic (Teressa Liane), her younger sister (Saskia Archer), and two friends (Ann Truong & Kate Lister) seek solace through a Pacific island kayaking adventure. Hours into the trip, the women are stalked by a shark and must band together, face their fears and save each other.
Hi Andrew, what brought you back to The Reef after 12 years?
Yeah, it was more the idea of this script rather than anything else. I was kind of interested in maybe doing another shark movie, but none of the scripts that came across my desk were that interesting. I became interested in the domestic abuse situation in Australia and I saw this play about it and I thought “What if I could embed this message into a form of entertainment that’s more mainstream and I could get the message out?” At the same time, I’m a surfer and I knew that surfers call sharks “Man in the grey suit” and those two ideas collided and that’s when I went “Maybe I could write another shark thriller and elevate it by having this domestic abuse angle to it.”
As The Reef: Stalked deals with domestic violence and trauma as some of the main themes, was it tricky exploring such a heavy topic in a horror movie?
Yes, it was tricky because, on one hand, it’s a problematic social issue and on the other, it’s a film about suspense and action. So you have to bring those two ideas together and find right the times where you can balance both angles. Like I said earlier, the “Man in the grey suit” idea was supposed to be allegorical, so once we establish the domestic abuse angle, the shark almost becomes the symbol for that. But yeah, the script certainly had moments where I had to question if I went too far one way or the other, so it’s about finding that balance to where it has both the message and the suspense.
When putting together the script, were there any COVID restrictions that shaped or molded the story by having minimal characters or working with limited crew members?
The story was always driven by the domestic abuse angle and rather than having a story that would be a grim fate like the first Reef. I wanted The Reef: Stalked to be more uplifting, empowering, and about women conquering this problem rather than succumbing to it. In terms of COVID, the film went into production in 2021, and in lots of ways, especially financially, it didn’t really affect how small the cast or crew was, but still, you have to work within your limitations, especially when a lot of American productions were also filming in Queensland.
Sharks. Crocodiles. Leopards. Which apex predator do you enjoy making movies about the most?
For me, it’s not about the predator, it’s more about the tension, the thrills, and the suspense. Quite frankly, I made those films because I needed to make a low-budget film and I came across open water and I thought about substituting the shark for the crocodile, which got me into this style of the film. For me, it’s not about making a creature feature, it’s more about making a suspenseful movie.
As a populous, we seem to love sharks as movie monsters, going as far back as Jaws in 1975. What do you think our fascination is with them?
I think deeply embedded into our DNA is our history and fears of animals or apex predators eating us alive or attacking us. As we live in a coastal country, as are most countries, and we love to go out in the water and while the odds of encountering a shark are incredibly small, our brains still tell us “I’m out in the ocean, my god, I could see a shark”. Its relevant to the average person and since it can be a real-world monster adds to the fascination of seeing a shark on the big screen.
On the flip side, when you have the schlockier movies like Sharknado or Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (real movie), do you feel the genre could almost feel overexposed, or do you feel it’s different appealing qualities for everyone?
Well, yeah, Jaws proved that it can be something for everyone and I think the subculture of Sharknado, Ghost Shark or Vampire Shark, and all that (We both chuckle), is a very small subset. There is definitely a market there as they keep getting produced, but they obviously have incredibly small budgets as the quality is very bad. But like any filmmaking, you can decide to go big and spend the money on movies like The Shallows or The Meg, and put in the star quality, make the effects great and appeal to as wide of an audience as possible. I think really it comes down to the filmmaker’s intent, whether they just want to make a low-budget B-grade or mainstream blockbusters.
Are there any other blood-hungry animals you wanted to explore in your future movies, or are you looking to make a change from creature features?
Yeah, I think I’d rather pivot away from movie monsters for the time being. Quite frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most dangerous animal is us and there are a lot of films about serial killers, which has always interested me. I feel that with most of these films, the villains are the main driving force of a script and I’m always interested in looking for a big bad, whether it being a human or an animal, and finding the tension and creating the conflict.
The Reef: Stalked is in Australian cinemas now.