‘Bait 3D’ and the case for mediocrity

Sometimes ending up in the middle is still great.

From the shockingly unwatchable to ridiculously good, the Sharkometer series dissects every shark movie according to the GOAT Jaws.

Bait 3D by Kimble Rendall, 2012
Starring Sharni Vinson, Phoebe Tonkin, Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Cariba Heine, Alex Russell, Lincoln Lewis, Alice Parkinson, and Dan Wyllie
Budget: $20 million AUD
Box office: $32 million USD worldwide

Number of times previously watched: 0

Horror is often a misinterpreted genre dismissed as too niche or too campy when often neither is the case. High-concept movies of the Horror Renaissance, like Hereditary, Get Out, and Midsommer, and classics, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Cat People, and Them, dissect terrifying realities and present our deepest fears in inventive, and yes, horrifying ways.

Of course, these movies still exist slammed up against the onslaught of low-budget often wrongly dubbed “campy” movies that serve as the horror archetype and “guilty pleasure” for many. Both offerings are fine for what ails ya, but they only represent two points along a vast spectrum. Yet, we feel this need, particularly with shark movies, to categorize them as either or and see things that aren’t there or ignore things that are. This is the case for Bait 3D.

Bait 3D is a reasonably good movie that suffers from two main issues that distort our expectations: (1) the marketing of “Sharks in a Supermarket!!!” doesn’t match the meat of the movie (a classic Jennifer’s Body) and (2) reviewers label it campy fun when it’s not really that either. Bait 3D has flourishes of high concept — who are you when the slate is wiped clean? — and flourishes of camp — can you electrocute a shark with a taser gun? — but mostly it is an overly tense emotional drama about a really big cast trapped in an underground supermarket after a tsunami.

Initially I didn’t like Bait 3D. I thought it didn’t take enough risks and was ultimately weighed down by the constraints of what it thought a shark movie should be. And while I don’t disagree completely with my former self, upon multiple re-watches, it is definitely not the half-baked flat hodgepodge I assumed it would be given everyone’s need to characterize it as “camp.”

With that, let’s put this through the Sharkometer!

Divine Intervention doesn’t need to be earth-shattering

One of the best parts about this shark series is getting to read endlessly about shark movies and call it research. After watching a movie, I love finding out about these little tidbits that altered the course of the movie and made it special. Without Jaws’ famous time delays, we would never have the haunting terror of an absent villain, Hooper never would have survived, and Brody never would have uttered the classic line “We need a bigger boat.”

Bait 3D was touched by fate when due to Teen Wolf scheduling conflicts, original director Russell Mulcahy passed the torch to first-time director Kimble Rendall, who rewrote some of the script and applied his “in camera” vision. Rendall’s instincts were to focus on preparation so the movie could rely less on CGI and attempt to balance the outlandish premise, complete with gags and cute dogs, with deep dark seriousness that permeates the movie. Rendall most definitely didn’t want to make another silly creature feature (and he didn’t) and it shows how much he cared about this film EvEn ThO iT’s JuSt A sHaRk MoViE.

And…*high-pitched voice* that’s kind of it. It may not have been as twisted or earth-shattering a divine intervention as say The Reef or Deep Blue Sea, but I’m glad Rendall cared enough about his vision for an animatronic shark movie to fight to make it happen.

Divine Intervention rating: 0.5/1 waterfalls

Hitchcockian Flare: Who are you when the supermarkets get filled with sharks?

“Let the Devil take your hand and God will make you pay.” — Doyle

If you’ve been following along with this shark series for awhile, you’ll know Hitchcockian Flare is shorthand for “what’s it really about tho?” Horror movies tap into the layers and intersections of why we find a story meaningful and tend to impart that underlying theme either intentionally like in The Reef (What Would You Do?) or unintentionally like Jaws (Is it about a shark or is it about America?).

It’s the beautiful thing about horror movies: you can have your scary cake and eat its underlying meaning too.

When we zoom in, Bait 3D is about a disparate set of characters trapped in an underground supermarket filled with sharks after a tsunami and their battle against nature, and each other, to survive. Pretty simple. If we zoom out though, it’s about who we are when we’re not constrained by our daily worlds. When we don’t have to be defined as the going-straight criminal or the cop arresting his shoplifting daughter or the depressed ex-fiancé. When “what you did earlier doesn’t matter now” becomes a really powerful and complex reality asking WHO ARE YOU WHEN SHIT GETS TOUGH?

It’s an interesting question for Bait 3D to posit because it challenges us to consider the circumstances that lead to what defines us, if they’re fair and accurate, and if we can overcome them or at least try? It’s very The Good Place meets You’re Wrong About. We have to decide what the characters’ problems are and if their reactions to those things make them morally good or bad pre- and post-tsunami. For example, if you’re stuck in an underground prison with aggressive sharks, is murdering an actual murderer threatening an innocent person with murder justifiable?

If The Good Place has taught me anything, it’s that this utilitarian scenario is theoretically ethical — you know, a “good murder.” However, if The Good Place has taught me anything, it’s that actions have unintended consequences and murder, in most scenarios, is generally frowned upon. So, reformed burglar Doyle murdering actual murderer Kirby by stabbing him with a spear and dangling him in the water to be eaten by a shark miiiiiiiiiiiight be considered questionable moral behaviour.

However, resident murder expert, You’re Wrong About podcast co-host Sarah Marshall, may disagree. She takes a compassionate if not controversial stance on things like murderers and considers the context within which things happen, providing reasons, not excuses, before we cast people off as “terrible human beings” instead of say “terrible tsunami victims.” “We like to assume that the people that we love couldn’t kill anyone. That’s not true,” Marshall tells co-host Michael Hobbes. “Right, well, in general it is,” Hobbes responds. “No it’s not. Anyone could kill someone. It’s just the conditions of our lives generally don’t push us to that. But if I move around a certain number of factors in your life, I bet I could get you to kill someone.” And she’s right, right? A lot of us don’t live in circumstances that intersect with things like murder, but murder also doesn’t just happen in a vacuum…or a grocery store.

So what is Bait 3D actually teaching us about morality? Well, the ethos isn’t so cut and dry. Murdering Kirby after he attempted to use Naomi as bait *stares at camera* seems like a good move because Kirby never repented his morally unjust pre-tsunami behaviour. He just kept on murdering. Jamie and Josh begin as reckless selfish people who prove themselves as selfless brave heroes, sacrificing their safety and rescuing others. But then instances like Steve dying courageously DIY-scuba diving to turn off the power or the security guard getting killed after looking for an exit blur the lines. What does it say about their character? Are they undeserving of moral repentance or are they just extraneous in this movie?

Well, that’s for you to decide. I think it’s probably neither because again life doesn’t exist in binaries and as much as Bait 3D is asking who you are when bad things happen it’s not positing that only the good will or deserve to survive. So pour one out for Steve — he did the brave, necessary thing — let the rest rot in hell, and think about the person you want to be in this world with or without a tsunami forcing your hand.

Hitchcockian Flare rating: 8/10 gold medals

Filmin: Now in 3D!

This is the first 3D entry into our sharkometer… so that’s something.

I’ve never been a big 3D movie fan because they are hella overprived to see in the theatres (I’m talking like $20+ PER TICKET) and usually the 3D effects just consist of things popping out at you or slowly floating towards you and don’t add much substance to the movie. Unfortunately, Bait 3D doesn’t stray far from those effects.

There is one great 3D scene when the security guard frantically swims and grasps onto Jamie’s hand in an attempt to pull himself out of the water before the shark strikes him. Jamie struggles to pull him up on the shelf when he suddenly goes still. And then slowly, his head bobs towards the screen while his arm remains in Jamie’s horrified clutches. It’s pretty good.

But, just to show I’m no 2D snob (and because I want to), I’d like to tell you about the best use of 3D I have ever seen in my life: Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The first half of this movie consists of fragmented 2D storytelling culminating with the main character walking into a movie theatre and putting on his 3D glasses signifying to the audience to put on their 3D glasses. This ignites the second half of the movie filmed in a single continuous 3D shot. Impressively you are thrown into a 3D world that uses its extra dimension to transform and stretch depth and reality where you actually feel like you are inside the movie instead of floating on the outskirts. It’s a stunning use of the medium that reinvents and frankly re-excites what a 3D movie can and should be and it is definitely worth your time to see it.

(The actual filming of this movie is perfectly fine and competently done.)

Filmin’ rating: 3/4 video cameras

Editing: Notes from a wannabe Mother Cutter

I usually harp on the editing because I love both editing and the visionary Verna “Mother Cutter” Fields. Most of these shark movies do a disservice to editing because they are conceived less as earnest films and more as quick, one-off productions. Rendall seemed like the former, but had the constraints of the latter. So in that vein, I’m going to suggest a few alternate cuts:

  1. A Deep Blue Sea-style shark fin slicing out of the water when they realize there’s a shark in the water to complement the swirling dolls and perishable items pushed aside by it. Or, it could slice up as the security guard clumsily swims back to the shelves musing about “no exit in the back.”
  2. I swear this happened in the movie, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. When the group is recovering on the shelves after the first waves hit, a huge shark figure swims out of sight of the characters as they plan their escape. It’s foreboding and magnificent, and again, might have happened.
  3. Lastly, re-editing the entire shelf-armor scuba diving suit scene to actually be funny. This is the biggest misstep of the movie for me. The scene is so tense and so emotionally wrought that it clashes with what’s actually happening: a guy literally taping shelves and canned food to himself to try to outsmart a shark. Josh and Steve should joke at the absurdity and leave Steve’s probable death unspoken and lurking in the background. That uneasy humour would have made his eventual death that much more horrible, and it’s already pretty fucking horrible, but it could have been more heartbreaking to think that moments before he was joking about the situation before he tragically drowns in the back room.

Mother Cutter rating: 1/2 scissors

Good Humour: Don’t call it a campy B movie

From the top, Bait 3D is an earnest emotional drama. It starts with Josh’s future brother-in-law Rory being killed by a shark while checking the buoy — a job Josh typically does and couldn’t perform that day, therefore implying Josh should be the one dead. After a 3D shot of Rory’s ravaged body floating towards us, the movie then segues to Josh as an emotionally depressed former lifeguard sans fiancé now living out his days at a grocery store remembering when he used to be the guy who said good morning to people. The movie stays in this dark tone within a dimly lit, David-Fincher-green-style setting for almost the whole time, which for me, certainly doesn’t elicit a “fun” or “campy” vibe — more like a semi-plausible nightmare natural disaster vibe. It also has the aforementioned horrifically traumatizing drowning scene and two straight up murders, both done execution style while the group watches. That’s definitely not that fun to watch and it’s pretty hard to emotionally balance with a shot of a dog floating on a surfboard.

I did count two legitimate jokes: one a weird meta joke about how beach movies always focus on women’s asses, which I guess landed, and the other a silly moment when a surfer decides to run towards the tsunami wave that initially made me laugh until I realized that that guy is definitely dead. And there’s the supposed comic relief team of Heather and Kyle, the arguing car couple, but to me they function more as a definitive reason that men with frosted tips are sociopathic assholes than tension-relieving side plots in a tsunami-driven shark movie.

The best and most fun scenes are when Josh shoots a shark underwater with a shotgun and tasers the other while hanging upside down from a ladder. They were ridiculous yet still played straight with a level of heightened emotional tension. It’s easy to say the movie should have leaned into this outlandish vibe the entire time, but I actually think Rendall achieved some great dramatic success and showed how outrageous circumstances will force someone into outrageous actions. Rendall could have aimed to balance the two levels a bit better and use humour to add warmth instead of just stoic contrast. But, Josh is no Bruce Campbell/Ash Williams.

Oh and also, not every shark movie needs to be a campy B movie.

A part of me thinks this reactive categorizing is just laziness and clickbait (nailed it) and a part of me thinks that when a shark movie isn’t all the way successful we reconcile it by stating “ah it’s just campy fun!” We tend to view things in binaries (good or bad) and we tend to view lack of proof of one as proof of the other. This is false logic and oversimplification and it’s unimaginative and dumb. If Bait 3D fails to be all the way good or have a tagline “Clean up in aisle 7” than it must be *red sirens flashing* a “campy B movie.” It boils the movie down to one moment and doesn’t consider it as a whole. So let’s stop. Stop classifying every shark movie as camp. Stop ignoring the sincerity that is there. Just stop. Let shark movies be shark movies.

Good Humour rating: 2/5 popsicles

Lack of CGI: A rubber shark, head half, and glove puppet

“I knew I wanted to do as much in camera as possible in this movie. I didn’t want to rely on CGI at all.” Kimble Rendall, a man after my own heart.

Bait 3D did end up using some CGI admittedly as some budget-constrained filler and everyone knows it looks terrible so we can move beyond that. It did however include three animatronic sharks — a full-length rubber shark (rubber!), a mostly head half shark, and shark “glove puppet” — that were a bit more Jaws 4 than Deep Blue Sea, but looked and felt great anyway.

What I like a lot about Bait 3D and animatronics in general is that they show people care enough to try something difficult even if people might brush off the movie as just another shark movie. To me, overuse of CGI is boring and lazy and is one of the (many) reasons I disliked Sharknado there’s no effort into the sharks beyond the tagline “sharks in a tornado!” Comparatively, Bait 3D leans in so hard to its “sharks in a supermarket” tagline it ends up dwarfing the hook and becoming a more richly layered movie. Rendall could have easily done all CGI and called it a day. But he didn’t, and I’m grateful.

That shark CGI is really bad tho.

No CGIs allowed rating: 2/3 mechanical shark fins

Wildcard: Hello darkness my old friend

If I was an unimaginative person, I would say the X factor is the moment Josh picks up the shotgun and goes all Bruce Campbell on the shark or the haunting drowning scene that has traumatized me for life.

But I built a whole shark matrix based on Jaws, so I say the X factor is… nothing.

Hear me out. A lot of things lack X factors or wildcards because those things are special and hard to come by by design. Not every shark movie can have a visionary Steven Spielberg or hunky LL Cool J or twitter storm — sometimes a movie just…is. And that’s fine. Bait 3D is fine. It has some great moments like the aforementioned shotgun and drowning (cries) scenes, but they’re just great scenes. The movie in general is entertaining and good but lacks a certain pizzazz to push it to that next level. So, there it is. And that’s fine.

Wildcard rating: 0/1 Spielberg head

Final Thoughts: How do we protect our joy?

Bait 3D is an interesting one. It constantly lands on Best of Shark Movies lists, but for the opposite reasons it should. It’s not fun, ridiculous, and devoid of meaningful characters; it’s serious, traumatic and pretty heartbreaking with yes, a couple outlandish shark kills — but those don’t negate the entire tone of the movie. It’s frustrating that our barometer is so heavily skewed towards calling things campy fun because it’s a disservice to movies like Bait 3D that are trying to do something different.

In a way, I wonder if our incessant need to categorize movies as “guilty pleasures” or “campy fun” or “so bad it’s good” is a way to protect ourselves, protect our joy, because we’re embarrassed we actually liked them. When things fit in those boxes, they are acceptable. So when they don’t fit, we make them, we fake it and pretend they belong in those boxes to justify ourselves so others can’t take away our joy. No more. (Deep Blue Sea IS a good movie!)

Bait 3D is an earnest and pretty good attempt at a serious shark movie that happens to be set in a supermarket. Its blips are that it lacks some consistency in tone, has a couple bad over-actors, and a few things fall flat. It’s not earth-shatteringly brilliant, but it’s also not a winking, campy romp. Basically, it’s in the middle, leaning towards mediocrity — which is fine.

Everything can’t always be amazing, but it’s important to try and do the thing. It maybe not be #1, but it may resonate with someone out there. And that’s something!

So go out there and unequivocally enjoy the things you want. Watch Bait 3D if you want, I think it’s worth your time, and you may even enjoy it. And remember, just because you didn’t accomplish everything you set out to do today, or in 2019, or in your life, doesn’t mean you are trash or that you can’t do some things. You’re good. You’re trying. You’re worth it.

Next up: The instant Christmas classic ‘Santa Jaws’

For a complete list of Sharkometer movies, swim here.

References and Recommended Readings

References are hyperlinked or below and some choice additional readings that helped shape this piece.

You’re Wrong About Nicole Brown Simpson series
10 Most Entertaining Killer Shark Movies That Aren’t ‘Jaws’ by Film School Rejects
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott
Where the tension comes from newsletter by Anne Helen Petersen
Bait review: Sharks invade an Aussie supermarket in this gleeful comedy horror by Peter Bradshaw
On Joy by Clio
Exclusive: Director Kimble Rendall Talks Sharks in a Supermarket for Bait 3D, Blowback and More by The Horror Chick
Ira Glass is my Fairy Godmother by Evelyn From The Internets

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