Shark Bait

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Shark Bait
"Nunn understands that it’s the threat of the shark, as much as its actual attacks, which inspire terror."

It opens with a camera creeping across a reef as the credits roll. No bright colours here, just darkness and a sense that something dangerous might be lurking nearby. Then up and out of the water, onto a beach where fires are burning and young people are laughing and sharing music. It’s a tribute to Jaws by someone who has actually paid attention, and it’s the only moment of homage in a film which is otherwise determined to stand on its own two feet. Despite the limited framework which a serious approach to the genre affords, writer Nick Saltrese and director James Nunn set out to tell a fresh story.

Any fresh shark story needs fresh meat. In this case it’s a group of young people enjoying their last spring break before graduation. There’s Nat (Holly Earl, the only really experienced actor), whose small size and natural wariness make her seem out of place amongst her brash, muscular companions, not least boyfriend Tom (Jack Trueman); his particular brand of arrogance suggests that he’s been first in his chosen sport throughout his life and will soon be sitting pretty in a stock market job, genuinely believing that he earned it himself, because his dad knows all the right people. There’s also Milly (Catherin Hannay), who has bleached hair and wears neon pink and behaves as girls of that sort have done in the movies ever since they started being shot in colour. Tyler (Malachi Pullar-Latchman) is a little different, with evident sensitivity behind his athletic façade. And then there’s Greg (Thomas Flynn, who has an edginess about him which recalls the young Emilio Estevez). Greg is just... unlucky.

Up against them is that well established villain of the shark film world (though actually one of the less likely species to attack humans in reality), a great white. It’s referenced by an amputee beggar before the action gets going, giving it a legendary status, and the young people are never in any doubt that they’re dealing with the same beast. The shark footage here is pretty good, enhanced by CGI where necessary but kept simple. Nunn understands that it’s the threat of the shark, as much as its actual attacks, which inspire terror. Its persistent presence just below the broken jetski to which the humans are clinging reflects the unknown terror of the deep itself. it’s not just about teeth, but about the impossibility of understanding that world or anticipating what might come out of it, combined with the awareness that unless the situation changes, sooner or later everyone will sink to the bottom.

How did this situation develop? That’s where the film gets cheesier. As it’s featured in the trailer, it’s not much of a spoiler, and anybody can see it coming – a game of chicken between two jetskis is never going to end well. It’s odd that the upended one is simply abandoned, especially when it might contain something useful, but if one accepts that, the rest of the story flows from there naturally enough. Because the jetski was taken without permission, early in the morning when no-one was around, nobody knows that the young people are missing. A suggestion that the airline might sound the alarm when they don’t show up to board offers slim hope, and they know it. As in 2011’s The Reef or 2006’s Adrift, the only way they’re going to get out of this situation is if they figure out a way to save themselves.

Complicating this are the pre-existing tensions between the five, which play out over time, with assorted revelations, betrayals and attempts at finding redemption. None of this is particularly deep – they are young, after all, and seem to have had fairly trouble-free lives in the past – but an interesting dynamic develops between Nat and Tom which means that later choices can’t be taken for granted. It gives Earl more to work with as an actor, as the film moves into its final stages and desperate action is called for.

With its glossy photography, conventionally attractive stars and pulsing soundtrack, Shark Bait is aiming to thrill rather than to stick in the memory. It delivers well in the action scenes and, critically, presents the shark as an animal with a mind of its own rather than just a generic monster, making this a psychological as well as a physical battle between predator and prey. It’s a set-up which emphasises human vulnerability in an alien environment and forces its protagonists to change their way of thinking. The camp entertainment value which many shark film fans go looking for is here, but there are also moments which will make you think twice before you next go swimming in the sea.

Reviewed on: 13 May 2022
Share this with others on...
Shark Bait packshot
A group of friends enjoying spring break steal a couple of jetskis, racing them out to sea, ending up in a horrific head-on collision. They struggle to find a way back to shore with a badly injured friend while in the waters below, predators lurk.

Director: James Nunn

Writer: Nick Saltrese

Starring: Holly Earl, Jack Trueman, Catherine Hannay, Malachi Pullar-Latchman, Thomas Flynn

Year: 2022

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:


Search database:


Related Articles:

Beneath the surface