Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Shark Attack Summer: BAIT (2012)

If you remember the big spread we did on the 3D movies of the '70s and '80s back in the Summer of 2010, you'll remember us doing a lot of bitching about the studios inept handling of the format in general. Here we are a few decades later and not much has changed. The studios are still more than happy to kill the golden goose by taking something that has proven profitable and figuring out how to turn it into a cheap, unpleasant experience. No, I'm not referring to Nicolas Cage, but post-conversion. Well, maybe both. Who in their right mind would want to see Nicholas Cage in 3D? Honestly?

Just like I am a sucker for 3D movies, I am a real sucker for movies about horrible things that lurk in the water. You know; piranhas, sharks, Ed Harris... The one thing that you would think would be a natural for a 3D boom would be a killer shark flick. This was tried back in 1983 with the massive clusterfuck that was JAWS 3D. In 2010 we got the juvinile mess that was PIRANHA 3D, except that it was simply a cheap 2D conversion, so the fish that vomit-burps the severed penis that was supposed to float in your face, stays well out of reach. I guess it's a good thing that the 3D was crap after all. The following year Hollywood's brilliant minds decided that since PIRANHA 3D's over-the-top blood, boobs and bullshit combo worked so well, why not make a 3D shark movie and... it'll be rated PG-13! I guess they figured they needed a water-based 3D horror flick that PIRANHA's writers would be able to get in to, and SHARK NIGHT 3D (2011) was born. In 2012 it took the mind of the prodigal Aussie son, Russell Mulcahey, to take a stab at a straight-up shark-horror flick in 3D. He didn't just make it happen, but he made it a damn good time and a fantastic 3D experience.

Set in the beach town of Coolangatta (the southernmost point of Australia's Gold Coast), an ex-lifeguard, Josh (Xavier Samuel) finds himself working in an oppressive grocery store several months after a great white shark chewed-up his co-worker, friend and would be brother-in-law, Rory (Richard Brancatisano). While dealing with his remorse on the job, a nice tough-guy, Doyle (Julian McMahon), who is paying off a debt to a scumbag criminal (Dan Wyllie) is robbing the store. At the same time a police detective, Todd (Martin Sacks), arrives at the store to pick up his delinquent, shop-lifting daughter, Jaimie (Phoebe Tonkin), who got her nerd boyfriend, Kyle (Lincoln Lewis) fired. And our lattice of coincidence is further stretched to the breaking point when Tina (Sharni Vinson), Rory's sister and Josh's ex-fiancee shows up with her new Asian boyfriend (Qi Yuwu). Oh, and there's also a security guard (Damien Garvey), an asshole manager (Adrian Pang), a store employee (Alice Parkinson), a couple of preppies (Lincoln Lewis and Cariba Heine) and their Pomeranian Bulli (Gypsy). Phew! Got all that? If there is one thing this movie does not lack, it's shark fodder.

Once the characters converge, the tension ramps up resulting in the cop in a stand-off with the robbers. As luck would have it, at this very moment a giant tsunami descends on the town and smashes into the store, sealing the exits and leaving the store and the sub-level parking garage half flooded with seawater... Seawater and the things that live in it. The survivors clamber on top of the supermarkets isles, but it doesn't take too long for our mismatched group in the market, and those stuck in the parking garage below to realize that there is something in the water, and it's hungry. Yes, it is essentially an interesting reworking of the CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) and OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) type of horror film in which a group of dissimilar people are forced to stay inside of building with death lurking around every dark corner.

A nice, atmospheric shot in 2D, an amazing shot in 3D

It's been a long time since JAWS (1975) tore up theaters, but you'd never know it judging by the truckloads of killer shark movies that have been made in the last decade alone. Granted most of them have been made for cable, but the thing is though, very few of those movies actually have the self-confidence to take the subject matter seriously. Burgeoning filmmaker? Plagued with self doubt? Make something overtly obnoxious and idiotic, then play it off as ironic postmodern filmmaking! Genius! Instead of the usual one-liners, jokey deaths and obnoxiously overbearing comic caricatures, BAIT is played completely straight. The only really throw-away comic gag is in the beginning when the tsunami is lathering up a head of steam and an overjoyed surfer runs toward it while everyone else is fleeing in terror. This straight-faced approach combined with the interesting conceit of being trapped in a small half-flooded building with something that wants to eat you under the water makes for an effective twist on the genre, blending a lot of familiar elements into something surprisingly entertaining.

Producer and co-writer Russell Mulcahey, sets up his popcorn horror film like a tween-appeal Irwin Allen disaster epic. Loaded with well-known Aussie actors, everyone is given a brief character set-up, that unlike Hollywood counterparts is delivered in quick bites in the first half hour of the film. Instead of dragging the film down into a mire of flashbacks and pointless back-stories these scenes give you just enough information to set up your expectations for who will survive and what will be left of them, much like the slasher movie of old. Again, it may not be new, but it certainly feels fresh in a year filled with numbingly unfun quasi-horror movies like RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012). Also, it's clear that director Kimble Rendall was aided by Russell Mulcahey's prodigious talents (if poorly utilized as of late). Not only is the film atmospheric with excellent use of smoke and visual debris but this film is far and away a damn sight better than Rendall's cloddish first film, CUT (2000) which was an attempt to both cash in on the success of SCREAM (1996) and revitalize Molly Ringwold's career. It did neither and it didn't do them very, very badly.

Another shot that is great in 2D, but is extremely effective in 3D

Effective use of 3D automatically gets an extra star out of me in our non-existent rating system. There's been a lot of talk about "immersive" 3D vs. "pop-out" 3D. Much of it coming from pretentious Hollywood types who point their noses in the air and proclaim anything coming out of the screen to be "low-brow". Personally, I look for both, particularly in a horror film. The immersion factor can make tension and scares exceptionally effective, but blending atmosphere with outright shocks for an experience that goes well beyond the realm of 2D cinematography is the ideal. While the 2D version of BAIT may be entertaining, the 3D version sets a benchmark for modern 3D genre films. Every shot has an amazing amount of depth and rich visual detail. From flashlights cutting through smoke, to blood billowing in the water, the sense of depth completely sucks you in. In the best of 3D traditions, not only does the 3D provide and extra element of immersion, but delivers some thrill-ride shocks as well. One of my favorite scenes that makes this point is the one where the preppie couple are sitting in their car, submerged under water. As they start to realize that there might be something else in the water, you see the shark swim past the back window of the car. It may not sound like much, but trust me, with the additional depth it is really effective. If you're looking for pop-out effects, we've got you covered here too. Sharks, body parts, knives, guns, sunglasses, water and little fishies all invade your living room so convincingly that I found myself frequently bobbing and weaving like a gone-to-seed boxer while sitting on my sofa. Anchor Bay, a company that has justifiably caught a lot of flack over a myriad of screw-ups in past years, should be commended for doing something that everyone else is too lazy to do. Release an outstanding 3D title in 3D and 2D on the same disc (with a 2D DVD version) for the shockingly reasonable SRP of $29.99, which in real world prices ends up being under $20 (Amazon's price is $13.94!). In a world dominated by 2D releases of 3D foreign films and $40-$60 releases of Hollywood's awful 2D conversions, it's exciting to see someone doing it right.

To be fair, the movie has a few downsides. While the blending of real, prosthetic and CGI shark effects are fairly seamless for the most part, there are some rather iffy CG moments. The tsunami sequence and the big shot of the destroyed town at the end do come off a bit like something from The Asylum, and that's not good. Speaking of the ending; it is a bit anti-climactic and a bit too pat. The people who are obviously being set up to die, conveniently die, the ones you think will live, they do. Also, the plasticine-looking McMahon is completely lifeless and unconvincing in his "bad boy" role. McMahon may have heaps of fans from "Nip / Tuck" and THE FANTASTIC FOUR films (2005 / 2009), but for the majority of the film, someone could have easily substituted a cardboard cut-out in his place and no-one would have been the wiser. So dimensionless is his performance that Stephen Hawking suffered a complete meltdown when challenged to explain it. Still for whatever missteps that are taken, there are a host of sure-footed scenes to over shadow them. I never really realized that a half-flooded parking garage could be as creepy and claustrophobic as it is here.

Almost the complete antithesis to the gobsmackingly feeble-minded PIRANHA 3D (2012), which was the cinematic equivalent of a frat-boy running naked into a crowd with "mangina" written across his ass, BAIT may tread on safe ground, but at least it does it well. Yes, I know all the hipsters dissed the film and one of the critics on the laughably pretentious film site Rotten Tomatoes accused it of not having enough character development (Really? You want another 30 minutes of backstory?), but hey, if it's so bad, why is Arclight Films producing an American remake set in a Los Angeles high-school? Yeah, chew on that one for a while.

Moments of Clarity:

2 Reactions:

  1. You've intrigued me, Young Sueyres! I'm pretty stoked to check this out. Especially after watching Sharni Vinson tear shit up in YOU'RE NEXT. Plus, totally loved the links to the other shark flicks - read the hell out of all of them, so thanks for that.

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  2. Don't get your hopes up for Sharni to do anything other than model a swimsuit here, but it's still a fun outing. I would highly recommend the 3D experience if you or any of your friends have the gear.
    I haven't seen YOU'RE NEXT, I'll have to give it a spin.

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