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Brennan Went to Film School: In BAIT, Purgatory Means Atoning for Your Sins via Great White Shark

“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.


It’s aquatic month over here at Dread Central, and while I recognize that Jaws is a great and a classic and yadda yadda yadda, it’s been done to death. And believe it or not, Bait was calling my name. Yes, the Australian-Chinese film about a shark murdering people who are trapped in a flooded supermarket. I remembered it as “The Mist plus a shark minus the religious element,” but on this watch I had to rethink that latter statement.

There’s no crazy cult leader in this movie, but the entire thing is a pretty cut and dry (well, as dry as it’s possible to be post-tsunami) metaphor for Purgatory, the space between Heaven and Hell where the milder sinners go to have their souls purified via torture before ultimately going to Heaven. All of the assorted strangers who are trapped together in the Oceania supermarket have a sin in their past that they must find redemption for in some way before being allowed to leave. And I know being allowed to return to Australia isn’t exactly Heaven, but it’s sure as hell better than being eaten by a Great White shark, the punishment that’s doled out to those who fail to purge themselves of their sin.

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Before we dive into the characters and their particular fates, let’s take a look at the two biggest flaws in my theory: the middle-aged Colins (the shark’s first victim) and the Singaporean Steven (a perfectly nice fella who sacrifices himself to save the lives of everyone else). Both are gone from the movie before we can explore their characters too thoroughly. I think it’s probably safe to assume that Colins has some dark shit in his past because you don’t get to that age in Australia without sacrificing some people slower than you to snakes or dingoes or what have you.

Steven, however, throws a wrench in the business right from the beginning. He’s doled out a particularly brutal death (he drowns, weighed down by his makeshift shark cage scuba suit) even though as presented in the movie he seems to be an absolutely good person. But when you think about it, it would seem that Steven is an integral part of the torture. He gets the fast track to literal Heaven to show everyone else in the store what the stakes are and increase the heat on the pressure cooker by a million degrees. It is worth noting that – beyond the initial tsunami sequence – he’s the only person who doesn’t die of shark-related wounds. The shark seems to be the true agent of Purgatory, deciding who lives and who shall be released to rebuild their lives once redeemed of the sin that’s weighing down their souls.

Just look at the others who lost their lives that fateful day: The douchey Kyle, who mistreats his girlfriend and sacrifices her dog to save his own life? Devoured. The store manager Jessup, whose selfish hurry to escape destroys one of the store’s only potential exits? Chomped in half. Kirby, the literal murderer who was in the middle of robbing the store when the tsunami hit? Speared in the gut and used as live bait, which the shark certainly had no problem with.

The people who doubled down on their previous sins are dragged to the depths by the bloodthirsty jaws of death, and on the flip side, the people who are allowed to survive all find the strength within themselves to reverse their previous behavior. The shallow and vain Heather, Jaimie the shoplifter, and her lazy enabler Ryan all redeem themselves by helping rescue others, Jaimie’s disgruntled cop father Todd learns to reconnect with his delinquent daughter, and Kirby’s partner Doyle puts himself in harm’s way multiple times to ensure that the others get the chance to live.

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Then, like any good disaster movie, you have the estranged couple who are brought together by the storm: Josh and Tina. Josh must forgive himself for her brother’s shark-related death a year ago, and Tina must help him along that path instead of leaving him behind to go to Singapore like last time. They’re rewarded with survival and each other, and when that means you get to spend time with Sharni Vinson, the You’re Next star who plays Tina, that truly is Heaven.

Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror franchises from tip to tail!

Written by Brennan Klein

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