Sharkfest Bait 3D

Bait 3D

When Piranha 3D graced the newly converted 3D cinema screens in 2010, it was clear that 3D cinema’s reputation for gimmicks, artifice and shock value was going to be reaffirmed. An update of the Piranha horror series that included James Cameron’s directorial debut Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981), Piranha 3D eschewed the subtle stereoscopic effects that Cameron had promoted in Avatar (2009) and instead used its enhanced depth to flaunt its exuberant sexual and violent imagery. It’s use of nude lesbian underwater swimming scenes and a castrated penis flying towards the audience in negative parallax indicated that 3D cinema is best suited to the extreme and the ridiculous. A number of films since then such as Jackass 3D (2010), 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy (2011) and Fright Night (2011) have continued this trend. At first glance the new Australian-Singapore co-production Bait 3D (2012) seems the latest edition in a long line of exploitation 3D films, stretching back to House of Wax (1953), The Stewardesses (1970) and Amityville 3-D (1983). Bait 3D even follows in the footsteps of 2011’s Shark Night based on a similar premise: sharks, horror and lots of water, all filmed in 3D. However, the distinction between Bait 3D and its more successful 3D exploitation counterparts is that Bait 3D seems to be trying desperately hard to be considered a sincere drama.

 

Piranha 3D’s nude swimming scene

 

The film opens with an introduction to a picture-perfect beach on Australia’s Queensland coast and two jocular but earnest lifeguards, Josh and Rory. We are soon presented with the equally earnest Tina, Rory’s sister, who is also Josh’s fiancée. When Rory is fatally attacked by a shark in the ocean, Tina and Josh split up only to be reunited when they become trapped in a half submerged supermarket in the aftermath of a tsunami. Alongside a motely crew of criminals, innocent shoppers and a policeman, they have to survive the impeding attacks of the great white sharks that have become trapped with them. The plot has around the same level of credibility as Piranha 3D’s human eating piranhas unleashed during a Spring Break party and Kailey Carruthers has noted many of its glaring inconsistencies (cars in the film are air and watertight; the great white sharks never stop eating; the underground parking lot doesn’t completely flood; the supermarket doors are airtight; the electrical boards continue to conduct electricity even when completely submerged). Rather than ham up these elements for comic effect, the film seems stoically unaware that the audience may not take its various narrative threads (a father-daughter reconciliation, the redemption of a criminal, the loving sacrifice of the token Singapore character, Josh’s self-forgiveness, amongst others) seriously.

 

Bait 3D’s watertight car

Early in the film, Tina is shot from behind with her skimpy bikini-clad body poking towards the audience. While there is a moment of self-reflexivity when she turns round to ask Josh/the viewer ‘were you looking at my butt,’ it reaffirms rather than subverts the tendency of 3D B-movies to fetishize the female form in stereoscopic dimensions. There is some comic relief in the form of ditzy beach couple Kyle and Heather who are trapped in the underground car park but for the most part the audience is asked to consider the threat posed by the animatronics sharks as a real concern. Most worrying is the claim that director Kimble Rendall said: “It sounds funny, but we talked to shark experts who said that after tsunamis a lot of people do get eaten by sharks because they come into the villages. It’s not really that far from the truth.”

 

 

While the 3D effects are variable in the film, one aspect it does frequently use effectively is the sheer quantity of water. Due to the film’s aquatic theme, there are various scenes filmed either underwater or in such a way that the action is framed half underwater and half above water. When the bottom of the frame appears underwater, it is unclear where the film ends and the auditorium begins. There is a liquid flow that that seems to encompass the audience’s screen space and produces an eerie effect in which the auditorium has the same dense quality as the water.

 

 

The underwater scenes also mean that much of the action can be played out slowly, allowing the stereoscopic effects to develop fully. After the first shark attack kills Rory the camera is placed under the water, watching as his blood disperses in a slow, flowing movement around the viewing space. There is then a moment when Rory’s lifeless body rotates on a horizontal axis and drifts directly towards the viewer. While somewhat gimmicky and gratuitous, these moments make a welcome change from the tendency in contemporary blockbusters to throw explosions and debris into the auditorium at a speed that audience can barely contemplate. It is in these moments that it becomes clear that the same effect could not be achieved in a 2D film and this particular viewing experience is unique.

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