Directed by: Kimble Rendall
Written by: John Kim, Russell Mulcahy
Featuring: Phoebe Tonkin, Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Sharni Vinson
The fun, preposterous disaster/shark hybrid Bait floats above similar DTV fair, but the déjà vu is deep.
Tragedy strikes the waters of a small Australian beach community when a great white shark attacks and kills two people, including lifeguard Rory (Richard Brancatisano). His death tears apart the relationship of his sister Tina (Sharni Vinson) and best friend/fellow lifeguard Josh (The Loved Ones’ Xavier Samuel). One year later, Josh is still haunted by the death of his friend (whom he was seconds away from saving) and laboring at a mindless job as a grocery store employee. Before leaving for work, he catches a news story (Foreshadowing at Five) warning locals about a group of great white sharks in the area who are following the southern migration of humpback whales.
Josh's place of employment, the bustling Oceania Grocery Store, appears to be the center of all activity. He runs into his estranged fiancé, whom he hasn’t seen in a year, shopping for heartache along with her new boyfriend. A pair of criminals (Nip/Tuck’s Julian McMahon and Dan Wyllie) sit in the adjacent parking garage and discuss robbing the store. Precocious teen shoplifter Jaimie (Phoebe Tonkin) is caught stealing sunglasses and shampoo. When it’s revealed that her boyfriend Ryan (Chronicle’s Alex Russel) is a store employee and her father Todd (Martin Sacks) is the very law enforcement officer called to collect her, it appears that her actions are an obvious cry for help.
Young lovebirds Heather (Cariba Heine) and Kyle (Lincoln Lewis) are also parked in the parking garage, attempting to make out despite the protestations of an annoying toy dog. Adding to these disparate story threads is a freak tsunami that hits the beach community — just as the robbery in the Oceania turns violent. The giant wave rushes into the parking garage and grocery store, instantly killing several people and flooding both areas. As luck would have it, all of our favorite characters remain intact, including the amorous couple in the parking garage. Good thing their car is completely waterproof.
While the survivors slowly get their bearings and seek higher ground (at the top of various product shelves), they begin to realize that the rising water is not their only problem. It seems that along with all the death and destruction, the giant wave also brought a couple of 12-foot great white sharks along with it. True to the shark exploitation genre, these are voracious man-eaters, never sated and compelled to kill even in the most inconvenient of places. (See Jaws 2 for the first, best example.)
Most high-concept films that can be described in one line (“robot piranha in a high-rise apartment!”) rarely attempt much character development. If anything, Bait goes overboard with its disaster movie character relationships and sketchy back stories. Our shoplifter steals to fill the void left by her dead mother, Josh still has feelings for his ex-fiancé, this was the career criminal’s final job, etc. Forty years ago, a singing nun and kidney transplant recipient would have rounded out this group quite nicely.
All this drama would be fine if the film aspired to be something more than its one-line premise, but “sharks in a flooded grocery store” is all it really wants to be. The script by Highlander director Russell Mulcahy and John Kim is both overly ambitious and underdeveloped. The first 20 minutes sets up various conflicts, none of which are resolved with any sound dramatic arc. The obligatory body count ensures that these threads float away like stringy bits of chum in dirty water. The action/shark part of the equation is where the film excels, as it should. If belief can be suspended, Bait is often just as assured and enjoyable as Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea.
What helps separate this title from the recent glut of shark films (see Shark Night 3-D or, better yet, don’t) is the considerable budget thrown at the lightweight material. This is one gorgeous B-movie. Director Kimble Rendall (Cut) has assembled a first-rate production crew and maximizes every ridiculous, derivative moment. The sharks in Bait are a mix of superior animatronics and CG, which gives the fish a weight and menace missing from similar recent creature features.
Cinematographer Ross Emery does a wonderful job capturing the action. His inspired frame compositions and crisp underwater photography bring a real urgency to the shark shenanigans. There is also a welcome sense of humor present in the visual language of the film, offering a nice counterbalance to the heavy “human drama.” This review reflects a 2-D “flat” Blu-ray screener, making his striking photography all the more impressive.
What also gives Bait extra bite is the talented cast. It’s filled with solid actors who manage to give very credible performances — even when the soapy dialogue attempts to work against them. Samuel is a compelling, charismatic lead and grounds the film by playing it completely straight. He’s given strong support from Vinson, Tonkin and Russell who all belie their cover model looks. Sacks, as the guilt-ridden father, is a standout. He imparts a credible edge to his clichéd role (and is the only character whose fate warrants genuine concern). Surprisingly McMahon, the only real “name” actor, and Wyllie are the weakest links. Neither character is written especially well, but both actors manage to be annoying throughout — especially Wyllie.
Bait won’t win any awards for greatness or originality, but it’s an enjoyable ride if you’re in the mood for some well-crafted underwater thrills.