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THE SKI'S THE LIMIT

Shark Bait (15)

Director: James Nunn
Screenplay: Nick Saltrese

Starring: Holly Earl, Jack Trueman, Catherine Hannay

Review: David Stephens

Is it fair to say there's a shark-circling-victims subgenre? The big-poppa of shark movies (Jaws) had poor old Quint and Brody being circled by their finny nemesis as the Orca slowly sank. Since then, we've had sharks harassing people on tidal rocks (The Shallows), reefs (The Reef), open water (err… Open Water), rafts (Great White), and diving cages (47 Meters Down). They even circle floating beach huts (The Requin) and submerged supermarkets (Bait)!! And now … *drum roll* … we have people being stalked by a persistent shark whilst stranded on a Jet Ski. Amusingly enough, the film was originally titled "Jetski", which is a) dull and b) grammatically incorrect. Jet Ski is a proper noun and a registered trademark of Kawasaki. We know. We checked on Wiki. Anyhoo, the better (but previously used) title for release is indeed Shark Bait, which has been directed by James Nunn, who made the underrated Tower Block in 2012. Now available on streaming platforms in the UK and the US, we dipped a toe in the water…

 

It's spring break down in Mexico way. We know this because a group of American "teenagers" keep saying "Spring Break!! Whoo!!" a lot (We say "teenagers", but at least one of the cast is pushing 30). Needless to say, a group of US youngsters are partying in a beach resort and having an all-night drinking session to celebrate their imminent departure. Still drunk, in the early hours of the morning, the floundering-five decide to steal a couple of Jet Skis from the harbour and play "chicken" several miles from the shore. Bad idea. After it all goes wrong, they're left stranded, carried by the current, and then… some fin appears!

 

Shark Bait is essentially genre junk food. When you don't want a gourmet meal and can't be bothered to cook, you'll grab a hamburger or a kebab… even though you know it's not good for you and the food source is questionable. It can still do the job. All that aside, SB does what it says on the tin. It should be called "Shark Trait" because it's full of tropes and soap-opera details regarding the cast. Good girl branded as "dull" by her friends? Check. Promiscuous BFF who can't be trusted? Check. Douchebag boyfriend? Double-check. Infidelities causing divisions in the group at the worst possible time? Triple check and underscored.

 

At least the film gets on with the set-up and doesn't waste time in sending the kids up shit creek without a motor. It's not 12 minutes off running time until we get the first graphic body wound, and things start to go to hell. And it's not long after that when El Sharko makes his first subdued appearance and begins to sniff the blood in the water. Yes, the set-up is extremely unlikely, and nobody seems to give a toss about five missing kids. They also seem to be remarkably resilient when it comes to dehydration. But that doesn't really matter.

 

It's the tension and the shark attacks that (literally) float the boat. Full marks for mean-spiritedness and a lack of mercy when it comes to victim chomping. There are some surprisingly realistic bite marks and wounds, as well as one of those bone-pierces-skin injuries that always make you shudder even if you can watch the goriest of movies without flinching. It helps that the shark is treated (mostly) realistically. There are some dodgy CGI shots towards the end, and it does seem to change size on occasions. But overall, the mixture of real and computer footage works pretty real. Well, much better than The Requin and a dozen other sharksploitation films that we could mention anyway. It's not a roided-out super-shark with uncanny intelligence. It does believable sharky things (apart from one dumb moment at the end). That makes the tension before attacks and jump scares work much better.

 

Although there are some obvious studio shots, there's a lot of good location work. For a Brit film, there's a lot of good-looking underwater photography, and the juxtaposition between the surface and the "deep blue sea" is done well, being reminiscent of Open Water and similar films. Holly Earl is also rather good as the Kansas country gal turned tough cookie, as she evolves into a Blake Lively facsimile as the plot progresses. There are a couple of nice touches, such as the barely glimpsed newspaper clippings on the harbour, the signals missed by the grouchy cleaner as he views the carnage on the beach, and the totally "Crazy Ralph" character who doom-mongers in Mexican.

 

Is it a good film? Well, not really. Does it do anything new or different? No. But as far as shark movies go, it's well above the levels of The Requin and Great White for all its obviousness and bad-luck scenarios. It still doesn't touch films like The Shallows or Open Water, but if you're looking for new sharky shenanigans, there are certainly worse films you could choose at the moment to stream. It could've been better, but no "Shark Hate" here.

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Pretty mediocre and nothing special, it still manages to be oddly enjoyable for what it is. Holly Earl makes for a spirited lead, the prosthetic body wounds are top-notch, the shark FX are (mostly) decent, and the tension is there. Full of tropes and bereft of surprises, it nonetheless does what it says on the tin. It might be junk-food horror, but when you're desperate for a bite…