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.
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.