by Dan Fields
First published October 24, 2012 by the California Literary Review
© 2012 Screen Australia/Anchor Bay
For The Pool Party
Josh (Xavier Samuel, also of The Loved Ones) is a dour young man, but not without good reason. Haunted by guilt over the shark attack that killed his best mate and cost him his fiancée – the victim’s sister – he has given up his career of hunky lifeguard to work in a small seaside food mart. Through a series of cursory yet melodramatic introductions, we meet various neighborhood types as they go about their daily shopping. A local policeman’s daughter is caught shoplifting. Her boyfriend, a store clerk, has been fired for collusion. A more aggressive robbery is soon in the offing as well. A fatuous young couple has inexplicably stopped off to have sex in the shop’s dank underground parking lot. And worst of all, Josh’s ex is back in town with a new beau from her recent travels to Singapore. How could such a day get worse?
“Tsunami” is the correct answer. Dogs and birds in the immediate vicinity have been acting erratically, and it turns out to have been an omen that nobody noticed. On a clear blue day, the ocean decides to drown the coast with a massive tidal wave. In little time at all, the occupants of the bodega find themselves flooded in. From here, escape would seem like only a minor challenge, except that the sea also washed in a pair of great white sharks. Forced onto the highest ground they can find, the tsunami survivors must find a way out or be eaten.
The stock characters in this film are cardboard-thin, with dialogue and delivery that must have been written expressly to elicit groans from the audience. When a movie tries hard to be “bad” on purpose, matters can easily be taken too far. B-movie sensibilities can be urged, but not manufactured wholesale, and the downside of Bait is that every scene in which the characters speak is really, really dumb. In addition, prepare to marvel at how well-sealed all Australian doors and vehicles are. Improbably watertight spaces play a key part in several scenes. But none of these things are why you showed up.
In its core scenario of hapless folks trapped in a supermarket of watery death, Bait has frequent echoes of Piranha, The Mist, and Open Water without ever quite matching the strength of any of these. Nonetheless, Rendall finds a multitude of inventive ways to pit prey against predator. This is the movie’s saving grace. The resourceful use of everyday items as anti-shark devices drives Bait to a genuinely taut and thrilling climax. Also, despite a few CGI clunkers that had to be rendered in broad daylight exteriors, the interior and underwater shark effects are quite good.
In order to reach its full (niche) potential, Bait could have used a good deal more sex appeal. However, there is a simple and well-paced plot going on here, and the film’s refusal to rely on bouncy assets may make it a more sincere pumpkin patch, if you will, than something like Pirahna DD. As a more low-key specimen of maneater encounter, this baby definitely has teeth.