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Shark schlock fun to make
Phoebe Tonkin (Jaimie) and Martin Sacks (Todd) dodge the shark in Bait 3-D. Picture: Ben Timony.

Agiant tsunami hits the Gold Coast. An underground supermarket is flooded. The usual blend of horror movie archetypes - a hero, a vixen, a cop, a criminal - scramble for the higher ground on the shelf-tops. Then they spot something circling the aisles in the water.

"Dah-dum. Daah-dum. Dum dum dum dum..."

Yes, that's a great white shark in the supermarket. Clean-up on aisle three.

Like an Aussie version of Snakes on a Plane, the new horror-comedy Bait 3-D is so preposterous it should be called Sharks in a Shop or Jaws in a Mall.

And according to debut director Kimble Rendall, a former member of Aussie rockers the Hoodoo Gurus, it's not pretending to be anything more.

"This film has put the cat among the pigeons a bit," Rendall admits on the eve of the Aussie Jaws premiere.

"Some high-brow critics have looked down their nose at it. But it's aimed at teenage audiences to go and have fun, yell, get scared and have a few laughs. It's high-concept horror-action. It's not something that's going to change the world!"

While some say Bait 3-D is more high-camp horror, Rendall said he worked hard to get the balance between scares, laughs and stunts just right, knowing the horror- comedy subgenre is in vogue after recent hits such as Zombieland, Piranha 3-D and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

"I tried to play it serious as a horror movie because they are trapped in there with a shark," said Rendall, who steps up after being an editor and second unit director on Australian-shot blockbusters such as The Matrix Trilogy, Underworld and Ghost Rider.

"And I was hoping the comedy would work as a bit of light relief. But I didn't want it to be a parody. I tried to get the balance right and I think it works. It's a bit risky but I think it's paid off."

Playing along with the balancing act is an ensemble of mostly young actors, including rising stars Xavier Samuel (A Few Best Men), Sharni Vinson (Step Up 3-D) and Alex Russell (Chronicle). Veterans Julian McMahon, Dan Wyllie and Martin Sacks are wise enough to ham it up as the shark - a mix of CG and animatronics - picks them off one by one.

Bait 3-D was shot at Village Roadshow Studio, with its massive indoor tanks used for the water shots, and on location on the Gold Coast. The co-production between Australia and Singapore includes actors from both countries, resulting in a mix of accents - including McMahon's Aussie-US hybrid - that make for its own little side-comedy.

Actress Cariba Heine, who plays a pretty blonde trapped in a submerged BMW with her boyfriend (Lincoln Lewis), loved playing up to the preposterous plot.

"It's a genre film and the premise is absolutely ridiculous," admits Heine, who recently played Delvene Delaney in the hit series Howzat! Kerry Packer's War.

"So we played up to it quite a bit. I think you have to.

"It's such a high-stakes film with such a far-out premise that you have to help that along. You have to provide a bit of comic relief."

Much of that comic relief, amusingly, comes via the fate not of the humans - who are a mostly unlikeable lot - but a tiny, fluffy Pomeranian named Mini owned by Heine's character.

"See - there's a circling shark and I'm stuck in a submerged car with Lincoln Lewis and yappy Pomeranian," laughs Heine.

"But I love Mini. They had no trained Pomeranians in Australia, so they rescued her from a shelter on the Gold Coast and trained her up. She was beautiful. But she hated Lincoln and I, because she knew if she saw us it meant she was going in the water and putting up with our screaming. So she was weary of us but by the end she loved it."

Having played a mermaid in the after-school show H2O: Just Add Water, Heine is accustomed to working in watery environments. She spent 12-hour days under water or in wet clothes on Bait.

"They heated the water to keep all the actors warm but they jacked up the air-con to keep the 3-D cameras cool. So being in wet clothes in icy air-con wasn't much fun. But it was such a fun film to make."

Despite the watery shoot, Rendall agrees the cast and crew had so much fun it comes through in the film.

"Some people probably have already said Bait is so bad it's good. But it certainly is fun. I like to think I planned it that way."

Bait 3-D is now screening.