SEPTEMBER 16, 2012
After catching a press screening, my good friend Ryan Turek from Shock Till You Drop said that seeing Bait 3D with a crowd (and with its extra dimension intact, something I can't do at home) was the only way to go. So despite having the Blu-ray sitting on my couch, I drove 40 minutes south to Torrance, which is depressingly the closest (only?) theater in Los Angeles county that is showing the film - Anchor Bay couldn't even get it at the Mann's, which is where a lot of their movies tend to play.
Naturally, while I got the 3D version I couldn't get at home, there was no "crowd" to speak of - just two other people, one of whom remained stone cold silent throughout the film (me and the other guy laughed heartily at some of its more memorable moments). Granted, the locale wasn't ideal, but it's still pretty pathetic that the one theater around showing this thing couldn't even fill up an entire row with the number of people attending one of its five daily shows on a weekend. Really wish horror fans could get it through their heads that the reason movies like this get such small releases is because they don't support the originals that DO go wide. I mean, I go out and support every one I can, but that's just one ticket, you know?
Of course, if it was a mind-blowing, amazing and stunning piece of horror cinema history, it would be much more of a downer, but come on - it's a movie about sharks in a supermarket. Personally I think it's the best 3D shark movie yet (and I'd include the two modern Piranha 3D films too for good measure), but that's saying so very little, isn't it? The 3D, too, is nothing groundbreaking - the shots of the shark gliding slowly toward camera and popping out of the screen are quite good (and won't be obnoxious in 2D), and director Kimble Rendall does a fine job of providing depth in the film's two main locales (the supermarket itself, and its even more flooded parking garage), but some shots also seemed like they were shot normally and post-converted - there was a "pop-up book" feel to them that I found distracting. There's not a lot of information about the film's production online (under "Production" on its Wiki page is just a bad review from THR), and the Blu-ray only has a (fairly extensive) storyboard gallery for bonus material, so until I hear otherwise, I will assume that the film was shot with 2D and 3D cameras.
But the film itself works, mainly because it's a lot more serious than I was expecting. Unlike the overly campy Snakes on a Plane, the stakes feel real, and there's a pretty sad drowning scene early on to remind us that they have more than just the sharks to worry about. The tsunami scene that traps everyone is also quite good; maybe it's because I just saw the way low-budget version in the similar Malibu Shark Attack, and also have a recurring nightmare about being trapped in one, but the suddenness of the wave's appearance and excessive damage and death it causes in such a short period made for a very effective sequence.
The characters are the usual mixed bag; there's the estranged couple, the troubled girl and her policeman father, the store manager... it's a pretty stock group, right down to the fact that there's a human villain that will of course throw someone to the shark to save his own ass at a crucial moment. I couldn't tell you any of their names just an hour later (I think the hero's name was Josh, however - and he's played by the kid from The Loved Ones, another Aussie flick that deserved a better release here in the US), but apart from the asshole they were all fairly likable and not any stupider than they needed to be in order to keep this (a horror movie) moving. The only "are you KIDDING ME?" moment comes near the end, when a guy drops his flashlight into the water and jumps in to get it, because it didn't seem like he needed it much; even with the dimming 3D glasses the movie wasn't too dark, so it seems like he could have been fine without it. Luckily it's quick (I don't think the shark even notices him jumping in and out), and again it's pretty much as dumb as anyone gets.
It also has a relatively low body count - I think more people survive than get turned into shark food, which gives it an extra layer of suspense over something like Shark Night, where as soon as someone goes off by themselves you know they're a goner. In fact I thought for sure two characters would end up dead (one by the halfway point, the other during the climax), plus two more wild cards, but all of them survived. Obviously I wouldn't want to go 90 minutes without seeing some folks get chomped, but I love when a filmmaker isn't in a hurry to kill everyone off - it actually makes things scarier. And by showing the drowning early on, again, we're worried about other things - the slowly rising water, the frayed cables threatening electrocution, the aftershocks that send parts of the building crashing around them... it's a full blown disaster flick (albeit on a smaller scale than most, being in one location) with the added bonus of killer sharks. And in 3D!
I was disappointed that they didn't give Sharni Vinson much to do, however. As the ass-kicking heroine of You're Next, I was very excited to see her spring into action against a great white, but honestly her character is nothing but a motivating factor for the hero. She's not a damsel in distress, per se, but she just sort of hangs out nearby, occasionally shouting "Josh!" or lending a hand to another in need, but most of the heroics go to the male characters - kind of lame. To be fair, this was shot before You're Next, so perhaps they didn't know about her ability to be AWESOME, but even so - what kind of horror movie doesn't give the females a shining moment? Her and the 2-3 other females in the climax spend most of it just sitting on a platform while Josh and Julian McMahon do everything.
Quibbles aside, I had a good time with it; it's fast-paced enough so that you probably don't start thinking about plot holes until later (like the fact that the store apparently didn't have any back exit), the shark action looks pretty good (and the kills are gory - making up for the PG-13 Shark Night), and it's told with a straight face without being too serious, which is probably the best way to go about this sort of thing. It's not the type of movie you'd want to watch over and over, and the lack of bonus features is disappointing, but it's pretty much a perfect rental - especially if you can get the 3D version.
What say you?