9.12.2020

Autopsy (1975)

DIRECTED BY
Armando Crispino

STARRING
Mimsy Farmer - Simona Sana
Barry Primus - Father Paul Lenox
Ray Lovelock - Edgar
Carlo Cattaneo - Lello Sana
Angela Goodwin - Daniela
Gaby Wagner - Betty Lenox
Massimo Serata - Gianni
Ernesto Colli - Ivo
Antonio Casale - Inspector Silvestri

Genre - Horror/Mystery/Giallo

Running Time - 100 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB)
A pathology med student and a priest team up to investigate a wave of suicides blamed on sun spots and discover a number of them to be actual murders.

REVIEW
As a fan of the giallo movie, I’m always excited when I sit down and watch one I may have heard of, but never watched before. It’s also more interesting when that film is made by a director I’m not all that familiar with, knowing not to expect something in the vein of Dario Argento or Mario Bava. I thought 1975’s AUTOPSY would be that film. I mean, it has a supernatural theme going on. It’s by filmmakers I have no film knowledge of. And look at that title! I mean, this has to be a cool movie, right?

Unfortunately, AUTOPSY is pretty much a mediocre flick that pulled me out of it as much as it tried to pull me in. It’s weird, all over the place, and is more focused in showing nudity than telling a cohesive story that would give a viewer a hint as to what’s going on and what the point of the film is. This one is a head scratcher, and that’s not even considering the convoluted final act that made me raise a brow more than once.

It’s interesting that AUTOPSY’s narrative is both a good and a bad thing. It’s a film that has such a good concept going for it but doesn’t do jack squat with it. The opening ten minutes is probably the most interesting part of the film because it doesn’t play out like a giallo at all. The intro to the film goes all out, as we witness a bunch of people either commit suicide or homicide while flashes of pulsating fire are shown on the screen. Apparently this violent behavior is being triggered supposedly by sunspots, if the original Italian title of the film [Macchie solari] refers to. We continue to see these sunspot flashes throughout the flash every now and then, triggering weird responses within some of the principal characters in the film.

While this sunspot idea is pretty cool since it’s a mystery one wouldn’t expect in a giallo film, AUTOPSY does nothing with it. Hell, I’m still not sure why these sunspots are affecting people, especially since the people affected are so random. It’s not like the screenwriter cared, since it’s brought up once and then ignored for the rest of the film to cater to a generic mystery-thriller narrative we’ve seen done to death - and honestly done better before and since. I mean, the killer in AUTOPSY does use the sunspot excuse to cover up his or her murder spree, so that’s at least something, I guess. But the sunspot mystery is honestly the only thing in this film that feels fresh since it’s not a subplot that’s done all that often. Why did these sunspots trigger so much violent behavior? I guess we’ll never know.

I also had some issues with the characters in this film. Was I supposed to like any of these people that I had to watch for 90 minutes? Main character Simona is somewhat interesting due to how she’s written. She had a strange obsession with death [being an American morgue intern will do that to you] that leads into some interesting imagery that I’ll get into shortly. Simona also had this pseudo incestuous relationship with her father that was seriously creepy, as well as having issues with men and just being sexual, period. Like, she’ll get naked with her love interests but then freak out when the passion rises. I guess it stems from her father, but nothing about her neurosis is explained. She’s also triggered by the sunspot deal from time to time, but doesn’t do anything major that would make you think she was affected. It was hard to relate to her because she was so skittish and kind of annoying at times. She’s also never really a target for the villain until the last five to ten minutes, making any sort of peril meaningless. 

The other characters are just as weird and unlikable. Father Paul Lenox is probably the worst person to ever put on the cloth and collar. His erratic behavior is bizarre, suffering epileptic attacks at times that made me question whether that was what was attacking him, or he was suffering from the sunspots. He also had a strange relationship with his sister, Betty, while falling in love with Simona. For a man of God, he behaved in ways that made me question how he even passed any sort of tests to become a priest. Dude was all over the place in terms of his actions. Simona’s father, Lello, was way too passionate with his daughter and a bunch of redheaded women who seemed to be in love with this guy [being rich raises your attractiveness]. He had a subplot involving business dealings and a questionable will that would take center stage in the last half of the film that becomes totally convoluted and uninteresting as the film reaches its conclusion. Edgar, Simona’s love interest, is a super cool photographer and race car driver who tries and be patient with Simona’s trauma with sex and affection, meaning he’s probably up to something. Then we have Gianni and Ivo, two really perverted men Olivia Benson and her SVU unit would probably love to get their hands on. Both are at least memorable and have fun moments due to their sliminess. Like I said before, none of these characters are easy to connect with, making me care less about what happens to any of them in this story.

And even though the direction isn’t as stylish or as memorable as more popular gialli out there, I think Armando Crispino did alright with some of the visuals and use of the location. The film looks quite nice, really showing the beauty of Italy. I also liked some of the locations, especially this death museum that is both inviting and creepy at the same time. I wish it was used more, but I liked the concept and I would go to a real one during Halloween season. I also thought some of the death scenes and aftermath moments were very good, especially during the sunspot moments. We also get a race car accident with a nicely done stunt. I also enjoyed the hallucinations a character experiences in the morgue with the dead coming back to life and having this weird orgy. If only the film had kept up with that surreal and strange feel throughout. And if you enjoy a lot of nudity, this film is definitely for you. It definitely kept me engaged. The pacing and flow was a bit weird though, but I felt the second half was directed stronger than the first half despite a weaker subplot being the focus. It’s not as colorful as Dario Argento or as atmospheric as Mario Bava, but I thought Crispino did alright with what he had to play with. 

The acting was also fine, despite the portrayal of the characters on paper. No one really stood out to me in terms of a performance, maybe besides Mimsy Farmer in the lead. Her frazzled and strange portrayal of the main character is something to watch. And when she starts to kind of annoy you, she takes off her clothes so you can rewind and like her all over again. I wish her character had more interesting things to do, but Farmer did what she could. I also liked Ray Lovelock as Edgar. He’s the only actor and character who came off as believable to me, so kudos to him.

And special mention goes to the late Ennio Morricone for his haunting score. Probably not one of his more memorable compositions, but it fits the film and elevated AUTOPSY more than it had any right to.

THE FINAL HOWL
Considering how strong 1975’s AUTOPSY begins with characters committing homicide and suicide due to strange sunspots, as well as a strange zombie orgy, I was expecting this giallo to be a special one. Instead, it would rather ignore a fresh take on the sub-genre, only to focus on a standard mystery-thriller that’s not all that interesting. It doesn’t help that the characters aren’t likable, even if the actors playing them are doing their best with what they’re given. However, the first act of the film is fun, and the direction by Armando Crispino is pretty decent with a great use of setting and well done death scenes. Definitely near the lower end of gialli I’ve seen, but maybe worth a look if you’re a fan of the sub-genre. 


SCORE
2 Howls Outta 4


9.04.2020

[Animal Summer 2020 & When Wrestlers Act] Boar (2017)

DIRECTED BY
Chris Sun

STARRING
Nathan Jones - Bernie
John Jarratt - Ken
Christie-Lee Britten - Ella
Melissa Tkautz - Sasha
Ernie Dingo - Ernie
Roger Ward - Blue
Hugh Sheridan - Robert
Bill Moseley - Bruce
Chris Haywood - Jack
Ricci Guarnaccio - Oscar
Griffin Walsh - Bart
Simone Buchanan - Debbie

Genre - Horror/Slasher/Bad Animals

Running Time - 96 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB)
In the harsh, yet beautiful Australian outback lives a beast, an animal of staggering size, with a ruthless, driving need for blood and destruction. It cares for none, defends its territory with brutal force, and kills with a raw, animalistic savagery unlike any have seen before.

REVIEW
With Animal Summer pretty much coming to a close this year, I wanted to tackle not only a film I hadn’t watched before, but also an animal I haven’t really covered for the event. With so many shark, feline and insect features out there, it’s refreshing to cover a movie like the 2017 Australian film BOAR. There aren’t many animal run amok films dealing with dangerous pigs or hogs, so BOAR became a must see. Unfortunately, BOAR left a lot to be desired even if it does have it moments.

BOAR is pretty much a slasher film with a giant wild hog stalking and killing people on an Australian farm and its nearby woods. Honestly, the film isn’t much more than that, making it a bit of a disappointment. It’s cool that we have a different animal as the focus of the terror and drama for the story. But the human characters don’t have much depth until it’s really too late, making it difficult to latch on to any of them. Some have more personality and charm than others, sure. But a majority of the major players in the film are there for nothing more than to build the body count for our title character. It’s sad because some interesting characters would have added to the tension and drama that the narrative really needed. But it appears the filmmakers were more focused on how the boar looked like and the carnage it could create rather than for the audience to identify with anyone they’re watching so we could care whether they lived or died.

The film is oddly structured, in that it introduces us to what we believe are the main characters in the first act, pretty much ignoring them during the middle act, only to present them again during the film’s last act. These characters are a family [mom, step-dad, daughter, son and daughter’s boyfriend] who are visiting the mom’s brother, who runs the family farm where the boar is now terrorizing without their knowledge until bodies start popping up. The family dynamic has some interesting things going for it at times. The younger brother they visit, Bernie, is this giant of a man who looks intimidating but is really gentle, heroic and knows every lyric to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”. The stepfather is respected and loved, which is pretty rare for a horror film. The boyfriend character is a bit of a jerk and acts tough, only until real trouble stares at him in the face. Other than that, there’s not much to these people that makes me care to watch 90 minutes of them. It doesn’t help that we miss a chunk of their reunion and interactions because they don’t appear in the middle of the film, making me wonder if the filmmakers had forgotten they even existed until they appeared again. It’s frustrating.

There are other characters sprinkled throughout, but not many make an impression but a few. The main ones are Ken and Blue, two best friends who enjoy getting drunk while watching over the farm and its surrounding areas. These two characters had genuine comical conversations and felt like two people who knew each other for a very long time to explain their easy rapport. Unfortunately, they’re not in the film enough to really justify how well written these two are, but I was happy to have them. The other character is Sasha, Ken’s bar owner daughter, who has a ton of sass and attitude that made her more attractive than she already is. Her character pops up here and there when the film needs her most, making her pretty convenient if you ask me. But I liked her character, so it could have been worse.

The main issue with the narrative is that the script focuses on too many stories going on at once. I get that you need the boar to scare and murder people to build to a final confrontation. But when you introduce a group of people that are probably going to be the main survivors of the film, just to toss them away for 25 minutes for random bloodshed, the film loses its flow and our care towards these main characters is destroyed because now we have to build it up all over again. There’s no real reason why the film couldn’t have had these characters remain on screen in a consistent basis while the boar did its thing to other people. It’s just strange how it was structured and took me out of the film for a bit.

What BOAR does have going for it is the look of the title character itself. I thought the giant boar looked pretty great, considering it’s obviously a puppet or animatronic creation that looked as realistic as possible. I don’t think I barely saw any CGI for the monster at all, making me appreciate the level of detail and dedication to the boar. It also helps that director Chris Sun [who also co-wrote the film] doesn’t show the boar all that much until the final minutes of the film, making what it does and what it looks like way more effective than it has any right to. I’m guessing the lack of character depth was sacrificed to focus more on the monster. It’s disappointing for the humans, but the animal looked pretty cool.

Speaking of Chris Sun, his direction was above average. I criticized his pacing and flow already, hurt by the script and not helped by the direction either. BOAR felt like many short stories in one, which took the film down for me. But Sun also does neat tricks with the boar, including giving it his own cool looking first person point-of-view that has this reddish-orange tint that swirls and looks distorted. I also thought the film looked quite nice visually, making the Australian location look beautiful in both day and night. And the highlight of the visuals are the death sequences. Unfortunately, probably due to budget restrictions, a lot of the deaths and mauling done by the boar are done offscreen. But we do see some gory aftermath with a lot of blood, mutilated bodies and organs, as well as a tusk going through a person from the back of their skull out of their open mouth. The final act of the film is where we really see a lot of the action, as the boar drags people away and attacks everyone in sight. It’s probably the best part of the film, to be honest.

The acting also elevates BOAR thankfully, as the actors all seem to be having fun and taking the whole premise as seriously as possible. I believe BOAR gained recognition due to its stunt acting of having Bill Moseley, John Jarratt and Roger Ward involved with the project. All three men are definitely highlights, with Jarrett and Ward having some nice comical and tense moments as Ken and Blue. Moseley does a good job as the family’s stepfather, but any actor could have played that role honestly. But he definitely has name value in the genre, so it was smart to cast him in a pretty normal role. Melissa Tkautz is also cool as bar owner Sasha, displaying a lot of tough attitude. She makes Sasha one of the more likable characters. Hugh Sheridan plays the daughter’s boyfriend, Robert, in such a douchebag way that he’s actually quite amusing. I also loved his switch in character towards the end, as Sheridan played it totally believably. But the real star here is former WWE wrestler Nathan Jones as Bernie. Usually playing a villain in films, his turn as the film’s hero is quite a surprise. And he’s a decent actor to boot! He has a charm and likability factor about him that made him easy to root for by the film’s end. The guy wasn’t much of a wrestler despite his size and presence, but he’s made a pretty successful transition to film. Good for him!

THE FINAL HOWL
BOAR is a film I was expecting more out of, but only ended up feeling a bit disappointed by the movie’s end. The title character looks very cool, considering the boar was mostly created with practical effects and only shown mainly in the film’s last act. Some of the visual techniques by director Chris Sun were nice, including the boar’s first person point-of-view moments and some of the film’s gory death sequences. The acting [headlined by Nathan Jones, Bill Moseley, John Jarratt and Roger Ward] do a very good job elevating a pretty mediocre script by taking their roles seriously and adding some much-needed star power. Unfortunately, the screenplay tries to tell too many stories at once, taking away much needed focus for the main characters from the middle of the movie - in which they don’t appear in at all - to give time to random characters getting murdered by the titular boar. The characters don’t have much depth to them either, only getting a bit of character when it’s too late to care. I get it’s a slasher film involving a killer pig targeting dumb humans, but even dumb humans need a personality and something for the audience to latch onto. BOAR ended up to be pretty average by the end credits, but it’s nice to see a different animal getting its chance to be a horror villain that’s not a shark, a cat or an insect. That alone makes BOAR worth a peek, even though I’ll probably skip this plate of bacon if it’s ever offered up to me again.


SCORE
2 Howls Outta 4


8.24.2020

Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

DIRECTED BY
Paolo Cavara

STARRING
Giancarlo Giannini - Inspector Tellini
Claudine Auger - Laura
Barbara Bouchet - Maria Zani
Rossella Falk - Franca Valentino
Silvano Tranquilli - Paolo Zani
Annabella Incontrera - Mirta Ricci
Barbara Bach - Jenny
Ezio Marano - Masseur
Stefania Sandrelli - Anna Tellini

Genre - Horror/Mystery/Thriller/Giallo

Running Time - 98 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB)
Inspector Tellini (Giancarlo Giannini) investigates serial crimes where victims are paralyzed while having their bellies ripped open with a sharp knife, much in the same way tarantulas are killed by a black wasp. As suspects keep dying, Inspector directs his attention to a spa all the victims had a connection with.

REVIEW
As a fan of the giallo sub-genre, it’s always cool when I come across one I’ve heard of but never seen before. Considering it’s still Animal Summer, I was hoping for some tarantula action within this cool sounding giallo flick. Alas, it was not to be even though we see a tarantula and a wasp do their thing for a bit. No, 1971’s BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA [or LA TARANTOLA DAL VENTRE NERO for you Italian readers out there] is one of the earliest giallo films to be released. And in many horror circles, this film is also considered one of, if not, the best of its sub-genre. I don’t think the film is the best giallo I’ve seen [that still goes to 1975’s DEEP RED], but it’s pretty damn solid and an entertaining watch for those who are fans of this type of horror and haven’t checked it out yet.

Probably the thing that stood out the most for me about BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA is that it doesn’t really feel like your prototypical giallo flick. In many ways, it feels like I’m watching a crime procedural that just happens to have a gloved killer murdering beautiful women. Besides the murder crimes, there are also subplots dealing with drug trafficking and even blackmail that relate to the main issue. Gialli usually focus on the murder stuff and the mystery of who the killer is and their motive. But this film wanted to branch out from that, giving the audience a full glimpse of a world that is pretty corrupt. The corruption just happens to be related to the killer and his crimes, steering the main inspector, Tellini, in enough multiple directions to frustrate him. I actually thought it was refreshing and it gave reason for side characters to exist in this world. Most of these characters outside of the police force seem to handling in some shady business they’re afraid to discuss or reveal for their own safety. It’s quite fun to connect the dots, leading you right to the killer themselves. 

In fact, it’s through this drug trafficking deal that Inspector Tellini finds this expert scientist who seems to know a thing or two about the killer’s M.O. in the way he murders their victims. You see, the killer uses an acupuncture needle dipped in poison to paralyze their victims by stabbing them into the back of the neck. As their conscious but unable to move, the killer stabs them in the stomach before slicing their torso open. This scientist shows Tellini that the killer was inspired by a wasp preying on a tarantula. Apparently the wasp uses its stinger to paralyze the spider before inserting wasp larvae into the tarantula’s stomach to eat it from within while alive. The funny thing is that the scientist tries to murder Tellini with the tarantula, fleeing the scene since he’s involved with the trafficking scheme. I found the scene rather funny in a good way, because the man did his job before quickly cutting out. Luckily Tellini was in pretty good shape because he did a lot of chasing in this film. 

I also appreciated the subtext in BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA. There’s not many films dealing with the idea of impotence in some way or form, but the story uses this theme to create a parallel between our hero and villain. The villain murders beautiful women because it seems he can’t get it up and do what he wants with them. Therefore, penetrating them with a needle and then a knife is his only way of getting sexual satisfaction. Inspector Tellini doesn’t share sexual impotence, as easily makes love to his wife in the film. But when it comes to solving the case, his lead for answers is a bit limp. His co-workers laugh at him and treat him as a bit of a failure, especially when he [and his wife] easily become targets for the killer. His impotence when it comes to figuring things out comes from his own insecurities as a detective, making him miss things that are right in front of him because of his own low self-esteem. He considers resigning from the force, but his supportive and devoted wife is always there to boost him up and make him see that he’s a good detective if he would just believe in that. I wish the film would have played up this angle a bit more since it’s very effective in giving us a motive for the killer, while creating a sympathetic hero who doesn’t try to be a badass or this cool cop that does everything right and makes everything look good. There’s a nice bit of humanity in Tellini while being impotent creates a monster in the killer. The film is more focused on giving its audience the usual giallo tropes to please them, which is fine. BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA does that very well on the surface. But the subtext adds a different layer that interested me more as a viewer.

What brings down BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA? I guess the fact that it plays out as your typical giallo, with stereotypical characters that wouldn’t fly in 2020. In particular, there’s this butler at the spa where most of the victims seem connected to. He’s very effeminate and flamboyant in his mannerisms in the final act, making us believe he could be using that as a cover for some sort of red herring. But no, he’s just someone’s vision of a stereotypical gay man that makes it hard to take him seriously. He’s not even a character, but really a caricature for whatever reason. I also thought the killer’s identity was a bit of a disappointment, since it’s pretty easy to figure out. And the way the crime is solved and dealt with felt a bit too easy for my tastes. Considering Tellini’s frustration and all the random crimes this killer seems to be the center of, I was expecting more out of the film’s conclusion. The film’s last act was probably the weakest portion of the film for me since everything before that was interestingly told and structured.

The direction by Paolo Cavara, best known for his work on 1962’s controversial MONDO CANE, does a nice job crafting this giallo visually. In fact, Cavara seems more focused on the story rather than his own direction, as the film has a bit more substance than style - which is usually the opposite of what a giallo is supposed to be. The locations are fairly style. The visual style is pretty standard, with subtle camera movements. But Cavara does provide atmosphere in every scene, especially when it comes to the spa. There’s a bit of sexuality and sensuality oozing out of most of the scenes. And the angles in which the killer murders their victims are done quite nicely, with the killer sometimes popping out of nowhere to stab a victim with a needle. And some of the shots before the killer stabs their victim are beautifully creepy. All of this is helped by a very subtle score by the iconic Ennio Morricone, who quietly adds a sensual mood with his composition. BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA is, indeed, a good looking picture.

The acting is pretty good as well. The film is carried by Giancarlo Giannini as Inspector Tellini, who really understands his shaky character enough to keep him as grounded and balanced as possible to not make him a stereotypical bumbling detective, like the script sometimes steers towards unintentionally. Instead of rolling our eyes at his ineptness at times, Giannini lets us in on the internal struggle Tellini has with his self-confidence when it comes to solving the case, making us sympathize with him and root for the guy to solve these crimes. After all, Giannini plays the role as a likable guy who does everything in his power to solve the case, while also sharing a nice relationship with his wife that Giannini plays with sincerity and empathy. Is he the most dynamic actor? Not at all, but he says a lot with his facial expressions and body language, which come a long way in a film like this. A very understated performance that worked nicely.

The female cast also elevates the film. Stefania Sandrelli as Tellini’s wife, Anna, plays the supportive, understanding wife perfectly. She’s also quite beautiful, adding to her already warm charm and presence. BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA is also well known for casting three actresses who are part of the Bond Franchise. Claudine Auger of THUNDERBALL has a meatier role of the three, playing the boss of a spa who may be hiding some things and acts a bit shady with everyone around her. The other two - Barbara Bouchet [of 1967’s CASINO ROYALE] and Barbara Bach [of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME] - bring their beauty as they play two of the killer’s infatuations and victims. Their presence also provide a neat trick for the audience, as it makes you question whether the killer is a man or not. I like that bit of detail. All the actors play their roles well and help create this mystery that’s easy to figure out if you’ve watched a lot of these movies.

THE FINAL HOWL
BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA is probably one of the finest entries in the giallo sub-genre. While the mystery is fairly predictable if you really think about it while watching, the screenplay still manages to create a solid thriller that engages you from beginning to end. The characters are fleshed out enough to be more than just stereotypes, even if some do fall under that trap. The theme of impotence that parallel the lead detective and the killer is an interesting one that manages to elevate the subtext of the story, even if the film could do more with it. Paolo Cavara directs a straightforward thriller that’s fairly subtle for a giallo, letting the story and the performances tell the story rather than the visuals. But Ennio Morricone’s slow and relaxing score adds a lazy atmosphere that’s enticing. And Giancarlo Giannini’s performance as Inspector Tellini is sympathetic and solid, taking what could have been a bumbling character and making him human and relatable. Plus, having three former Bond Girls in one film makes this one to watch for fans of that series. Not the best giallo film I’ve seen, but it’s definitely a fine one for a fan or for someone just trying to get into gialli. 



SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4


8.16.2020

[Animal Summer 2020] Bait (2012)

DIRECTED BY
Kimble Rendall

STARRING
Xavier Samuel - Josh
Sharni Vinson - Tina
Julian McMahon - Doyle
Richard Brancatisano - Rory
Alex Russell - Ryan
Phoebe Tonkin - Jaime
Martin Sacks - Todd
Yuwu Qi - Steven
Adrian Pang - Jessup

Genre - Horror/Action/Thriller/Bad Animals

Running Time - 93 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB)
A group of people get trapped in a supermarket after a tsunami hits the coast of Queensland, Australia. But they soon find out that they have more to worry about than being in a flooded grocery store - there are 12 foot sharks swimming around them, and they’re hungry.

REVIEW
Figuring we’re near the end of 2020’s edition of Shark Week, I felt it would be more than appropriate to review a film dealing with a killer shark or two. 2012’s Australian and Chinese collaboration, BAIT, is a film that had been on my radar for a while now considering it had two actors I’ve enjoyed in other projects - Sharni Vinson [YOU’RE NEXT] and Julian McMahon [Charmed, Nip/Tuck, those 2000’s FANTASTIC FOUR films]. Considering not many people talk about this one when it comes to killer shark films, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. I knew for sure that it would never reach the level of JAWS. But could it be better than most SyFy fare at least? The result is that BAIT is a pretty generic shark flick with enough decent moments to make it worth a watch at least once.

The best way to describe BAIT is sharks hunting and eating people inside of a supermarket and the parking garage connected to it. There’s nothing really more to the narrative other than that, even though the film tries its hardest to make you care about certain characters and the relationships some of that have with each other. That’s honestly one of the big problems with BAIT - we don’t care all that much for the heroes of the story when the script doesn’t bother to develop them. 

Our main hero, Josh, works retail at the supermarket after a traumatizing year. You see, Josh was a lifeguard with his best friend, Rory. Josh also happened to be engaged to Rory’s sister, Tina. Josh and Tina were planning on leaving Australia to Singapore until a shark attack murdered Rory - an attack Josh was close to stopping but was too late to save his friend. This separated Josh and Tina, until they reunite at the supermarket a year later with Tina introducing her new boyfriend, Steven. Then a massive earthquake and tsunami hits their town, flooding and destroying everything - but also bringing in two Great White Sharks who are hungry for live flesh. Josh, having dealt with this and wanting to make up for what he couldn’t do a year prior, steps up as the leader and tries to save as many survivors in the supermarket and parking garage as possible. 

Josh being a hero is understandable because it’s quickly set up for his character to want to erase the sins of his past so he can move on from his trauma. But that’s really his main character trait, unless you count him still being hung up on Tina [who seems as hung up on him still as well]. He doesn’t have much of a personality and while we want him to save the likable survivors, it’s hard to care if something happens to him at the same time. It doesn’t help that his relationship with Tina isn’t built all that much and don’t really care if they get back together. The relationship feels as if it’s there just because there needed to be a reason for Josh and Tina to have this tension with each other. It’s very predictable what will happen between them, so there’s not much suspense going there either. It doesn’t help that Tina isn’t much of a character either, playing more of a damsel-in-distress than anything else.

Actually, all the characters are written without much depth. Doyle may be the only one who has something going on, as there’s a backstory there that’s dying to be explored as he starts as a reluctant villain who proves that he’s really a decent human being as the film reaches its end. There’s a moment at the end of the second act where he tells a bit about himself to a supermarket worker he’s attracted to, Naomi. But it only lasts about two minutes and nothing more is added to it. So what’s the point?

Other than that, Steven is the token new boyfriend. Todd is the token police officer. Jamie is the token police officer’s bad girl daughter who is rebelling against her father over her mother’s death. Jamie has her moments near the end, making me wish she was explored as a character more. Jamie’s boyfriend, Ryan, is the hero of the parking garage segment helping two annoying characters [Heather and Kyle] and their daughter so they can survive. Jessup is the ignorant and jerk of a boss, while Kirby is a random customer who isn’t so random if you really think about it as you watch the film. It was a decent attempt at a twist at least, so I’ll give all six screenwriters that. Yes, that’s right - six screenwriters wrote BAIT, yet none of them thought it would be nice to develop a couple of the characters for us to latch onto. I mean, the deep characters in JAWS didn’t add anything to the story or film, am I right???

Instead, we get your typical modern shark tale but in an environment that is so outside the box, it should have made BAIT a bigger hit than it actually was. While SNAKES ON A PLANE didn’t light the box office on fire or anything, at least we still remember it because it has snakes on a mother f’n plane! It’s like the writers of BAIT thought having sharks terrorize people in a supermarket and parking garage was a neat idea, but barely did anything with the locations to justify the film taking place there. Besides a few characters trying to swim to power generators, certain aisles for supplies and towards this van that’s blocking the exit, the rest of the film after the tsunami is mainly the survivors stranding themselves on top of shelves above the water to stay out of the shark’s way. Besides hooking a shark by its mouth into a trap so they could swim the opposite way, the characters don’t really move from this position to really use the location to its fullest. Even the parking garage scenes involve two groups of characters standing on different cars trying to get to each other to unify against their own dangerous shark, never really exploring the area. It seems like a wasted idea, but mostly this was probably done for monetary reasons. It sucks because a lot more could have been done with these locations to make BAIT stand out above the rest, especially when the characterization was weak to begin with. But at least having a shark film in a different setting was a cool attempt.

Another thing - for a B-movie plot, BAIT sure takes itself seriously. There are moments where the film wants to have fun and sort of make fun of itself. But then, the film just gets serious again and wants to be this action-thriller we’re not supposed to laugh at or with. Considering the premise, BAIT should have been humorous enough for audiences to be amused. But the change of tones was a bit jarring at times. It doesn’t have to be SHARKNADO, but this ain’t JAWS either.

One of the six screenwriters, Russell Mulcahy - famous director of many 1980s music videos, as well as directing the first two HIGHLANDER films and RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION - was originally going to direct BAIT. However, Mulcahy was busy directing episodes of Teen Wolf for MTV at the time and didn’t have time to direct a feature. So the director’s chair went to Kimble Rendall, mostly known as a Second Unit Director even though he had directed music videos and 2000’s CUT starring Kylie Minogue. Rendall does the best he can visualizing a generic script, adding as much tension and suspense as possible while using CGI to visualize a tsunami and eager sharks swimming in the water waiting for a survivor to make a dumb move. The CGI is really questionable, as it looks mostly fake to be honest and something SyFy would present on a Saturday night for laughs. At times, the sharks do look convincing enough and I believe animatronics were mostly used for the killer fish. But the huge wave looks silly and the end shot of BAIT with cartoon planes and helicopters actually made me laugh out loud at how video game-y they looked.

Other than that, BAIT is directed better than it probably deserves to be honest. There are genuine moments of tension, especially during the film’s final half. Sometimes you think a shark is going to get someone and they’re saved at the last second. The sound design, especially, helps build suspense and atmosphere during these moments. The death sequences are pretty good, not going to lie. Those who want to see limbs floating in the water and sharks leaving victims with half of a body will be satisfied with BAIT. There’s one well-directed scene in particular where someone tries to save another from an attacking shark by holding their hand. Seconds later, they’re still holding the hand, realizing the rest of the body is floating away. I thought that was really cool and well thought out.

And if you look up this film, it was originally called BAIT 3D. And the film doesn’t bother hiding its gimmick, especially when body parts, sharks, and weapons fly towards the screen without a care in the world. Not sure if the 3D would have made this film a better experience, but I get easily amused watching a shark spear vertically through a jet ski with someone on it, with everything flying towards the screen in a “jump scare” moment. The look of the film also has that “this film doesn’t look all that bright because of the 2D to 3D conversion”, but it honestly didn’t bother me. I thought it was also very good in terms of pacing, as BAIT went by quickly.

The acting is probably the best part of BAIT. No one really stands out, but all the actors play their roles well. Julian McMahon is probably the big name here and he’s more than fine. I liked the ambiguity with his character, wondering if he was good or bad. He had some good action moments as well and I didn’t mind him here at all. Sharni Vinson doesn’t get a whole lot to do, unfortunately. But as the worried girlfriend with a bit of toughness, she’s alright. Watch 2011’s YOU’RE NEXT for a dynamic Vinson performance because it’s not here. Xavier Samuel, best known for the TWILIGHT franchise and THE LOVED ONES, is very good as main character Josh. He had a lot of emotional beats to play and he pulled them off. I bought him as the main hero too due to his presence. The rest of the cast do what they need to do and no one is terrible in BAIT. Honestly, I think the actors saved this film and made it watchable.

THE FINAL HOWL
2012’s BAIT is a really generic, yet watchable shark film that ought to be better than it actually is. Considering most of the film deals with sharks terrorizing survivors of an earthquake and tsunami in a supermarket and the adjacent parking garage, the film doesn’t use either location enough to create much suspense or tension for majority of the movie. The characters have no real depth - all token characters you’d expect from a survival film like this, which is more disappointing when you realize that six people actually wrote the screenplay for BAIT. The film also wants to take itself seriously for the most part, only showing hints of humor and self-awareness every now and then, creating a tonal shift that can be jarring. That being said, while the CGI is dated even for 2012, the direction by Kimble Rendall is visually good considering BAIT is a 2D conversion from its theatrical 3D version. The death scenes are actually inventive and the gore will please those who want that in their horror film. It’s also well edited and well paced. And the acting saves the film with all good performances that elevate a script that probably doesn’t deserve it. BAIT isn’t as memorable or fun as JAWS, DEEP BLUE SEA or even SHARKNADO. But it’s definitely watchable if you’re in the mood for 90 minute killer shark diversion. 


SCORE
2 Howls Outta 4

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