The Reeds is a hopelessly confusing mess, a horror film that knows neither the story it wants to tell nor how it wants to tell it. While many scary and bloody things happen all throughout, and while it consistently establishes mood, no real attempt is made at a story until the final ten minutes, at which point we’re hit with not one but two plot twists that make absolutely no sense. I hate movies like this. They have no ambition other than to keep you in a perpetual state of bewilderment. I grant you that not everything has to be wrapped up in a neat little package, but really, what can be gained by jerking the audience’s chain without providing some kind of payoff?
It opens on a premise horror movies thrive on: A young group of city dwellers getting stranded in the middle of nowhere. Lo and behold, we have six twenty-somethings from London retreating for a weekend of boating in the Norfolk Broads, an open expanse of rivers, lakes, and reeds in the English countryside. Strange that this area should be so deserted when for over a century it has been a bustling tourist destination and a haven for yacht racing, but never mind. When our six friends arrive, they meet the strange old marina operator, Mr. Croker (Geoff Bell). He informs them, in his own salty way, that all the rentable boats are gone. But … what’s this? Why, one is still available. What luck!
Thus ventures our six friends, who are all character and no development. Not even Laura, who knows a thing or two about first aid (Anna Brewster), is given all that much to do, which is to say she’s about as fleshed out as twig stripped bare of its bark. The rest combine to form a generic mishmash of horror movie stereotypes, meaning it’s virtually impossible to tell one from the other, regardless of gender.
It isn’t long before things start going wrong, for both our friends and the movie. It starts to rain. The ship gets stuck. Someone gets wounded. Others start to see things that may or may not actually be there. Out in the river, a skeleton floats to the surface, having been freed from a rusted torture cage. One of the friends abandons the ship in search of help, only to become distracted by events that can’t be explained rationally. And it seems that something is in the reeds, although no one can say what that something is. We do sometimes see things from its point of view, however, and we can hear it breathing heavily.
More puzzlement can be found in a subplot involving a group of teens wandering through the reeds. They rarely speak and are often covered with blood. When they’re not sitting around a makeshift campfire – roasting things that ought not to be roasted – they’re being stalked by a mysterious figure in a black hooded jacket, who totes a shotgun with a flashlight affixed to the barrel. Sometimes, the teens seem to appear out of nowhere, and they disappear just as quickly. One of them, a girl with flowing red hair, occasionally glances at Laura with an ominous smirk. If the plot twist is meant to explain who these kids are and what they’re doing in the reeds, then director Nick Cohen and writers Chris Baker and Mark Anthony Galluzzo seriously need a crash course in plot twists. There’s no clarity in the revelation, nor is there logic.
Oh, this movie made me mad. It begins as one big horror movie cliché before getting lost in an endless succession of murky visuals, vague hints, unexplainable occurrences, and nonsensical resolutions. It wants to tell a story without actually telling one. It’s one of those rare movies that lack both style and substance, making it seem not like a movie at all but rather an eighty-minute collection of scenes, many of which didn’t seem to belong together in the first place. Which subplot are we supposed to focus on? How do they all come together? Is it a supernatural thriller or a psychological guessing game? Who is the main character? What does the final shot reveal, and how does it relate to the earlier twist? I’m trying hard, here.
Believe me, I wanted to like this movie. I tried to delve deeper into the plot, to find the nuances that entice audiences along, to get wrapped up in the mystery, to be scared, to go inside the characters’ heads and figure them out. But as I quickly found out, there was nothing to figure out; it’s constructed in such a way that any attempt would be pointless. The Reeds is an empty, bewildering, unrewarding experience, a dreary and unfocused train wreck that mistakes maddening confusion with cerebral psychological horror. Now I know what a hamster feels like running inside a wheel, exhausting itself in a fruitless attempt at going somewhere.