Screen Australia. Director: Kimble Rendall.
Creature Feature Bleachers Award: Best. Location. Ever.
“Bait” lives up to expectations in every way. A movie about sharks attacking people in a grocery store— Yes, it is every bit as awesome as it sounds! And if “Bait” may be considered a king among sharksploitation films, it also comes pretty close to being a decent movie by mainstream standards. If you’re trying to get a parent, a friend, or that special someone to share your appreciation of shark films, “Bait” is a good starting point (though you should keep in mind the prevalence of floating corpses). “Bait” achieves a rare balance among sharksploitation films— it contains humor but is not a farce, contains gore but is not a bloodbath, and contains romance, which is stupid.
Soon after proposing to his girlfriend Tina (Sharni Vinson), Lifeguard Josh (Xavier Samuel) fails to save her brother from a shark attack. The guilt ruins their relationship, and 12 months later Josh is working an unfulfilling job at a supermarket. Meanwhile, shoplifter Jaime (Phoebe Tonkin) seeks refuge with her stock boy boyfriend Ryan (Alex Russel), but only ends up getting him fired. Fortunately her dad is a police officer (Martin Sacks) who fetters her with guilt, rather than handcuffs. Two robbers begin holding up the place, when suddenly a freak tsunami floods the supermarket and its parking garage. Not only does the rising water threaten to drown the survivors, but some sharks are trapped in the aisles and in the garage! Can the gang escape to safety?
I know what some of you must be thinking. “Wow, a flooded supermarket! What a cool location for a shark movie! …But wait!!! Does that mean there won’t be any scenes of fat white men wearing speedos on the beach?!?!?!?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO….”
Don’t worry, they found a way to work it in.
If you haven’t just induced amnesia, you may find that this film reminds you of something. Yes, a similar shark incident did actually occur in China not too long ago— an indoor aquarium broke, releasing a huge wave of water and three lemon sharks into a shopping mall. Somewhat anticlimactically, however, the water hardly flooded the mall, and lemon sharks have fatally attacked humans. Since “Bait” premiered three months before the mall incident, it’s fair to classify this as a rather disappointing instance of life imitating art.
The news anchor’s reaction demonstrates once again why I should have written the plot for “Jaws 3.” Everyone’s greatest fear is being trapped with sharks in a flooded SeaWorld tunnel.
The multitude of subplots and nondescript actors in “Bait” make it seem overwhelming at first glance. Stick with it, though. You can enjoy the overall situation without understanding every single subplot, and the shark gradually thins out the cast, anyway. If you really want to keep track of everything, the filmmakers threw in some handy clues. For instance, the tough, balding cop (Martin Sacks) who tries to protect his daughter looks a lot like a taller, Australian version of Bruce Willis. His daughter (Phoebe Tonkin), in turn, bears a resemblance to Kristen Stewart, and even had a role in “The Vampire Diaries.”
One of my favorite things about “Bait” is that the governments of both Australia and Singapore funded it. Admittedly I don’t know much about their respective film industries, but I am just trying to imagine a situation in which the U.S. government would support a film like “Sand Sharks.” I’m not sure what’s worse— the fact that the sharksploitation film industry thrives independently in America, or that it requires subsidization overseas.
At first I couldn’t figure out what Singapore gained from supporting “Bait.” Early on, in fact, a character notes that Singapore doesn’t have the same beautiful beaches as Australia. But, of course, the Singaporean character later gets a dramatic moment to perform a selfless, heroic feat.
For the most part, “Bait” operates pretty logically. My only major bone to pick is with the robbery. Even if it hadn’t been interrupted by the tsunami, sharks, et al, the cop could easily have tracked down the robber afterwards. Picture the planning process for the crime. Gun? Check. Ski-mask to hide his face? Check. Long-sleeved shirt to conceal his identifying tattoos? Check.
A final note of praise for “Bait”: a sharksploitation film has to put in an extraordinary amount of effort to be appreciated unironically. The propensity to become a “humorously bad movie” is just too great. “Bait” somehow manages to break past this, perhaps because it recognizes that there is a time and place for everything. Unlike overly serious shark films that don’t know they are bad (“Raging Sharks“) or ludicrously outlandish films that serve up forced laffs (“Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus“), “Bait” maintains a healthy balance. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor does it handle a frightening situation with undue goofiness. The relationships and terror are, for the most part, realistic, while the doltish couple trapped in their car provides a healthy amount of comic relief.
The trailer truly does the film justice:
“Bait” is available on Amazon.