Starring: Edward Rowe, Mary Woodvine, Simon Shepherd
Director: Mark Jenkin
Running Time: 89 mins
Bait is a British film about a Cornish fisherman struggling to make ends meet, while his seaside village is overrun with middle-class money and holidaymakers.
There are many films that emulate styles of the past, from homages to classic adventure serials from the 1930s to the pulp thrillers of the 1960s, but there are perhaps few quite so striking and tactile as Bait. A hugely impressive piece of work that brings a powerfully unique image to the big screen, Bait is a bold and exciting film even just to look, backed up by an engrossing story complete with good tension and clever humour right the way through.
For such a short, small-scale film, there’s really quite a lot to talk about with Bait, but nothing stands out more than Mark Jenkin’s boldly distinctive visual style. Paying homage to independent British cinema through the early to mid-20th Century, Bait is entirely shot, edited, acted and directed in the style of an aged film.
Complete with scratches on the film, jerky editing, intense close-ups, mistakes in voice and foley dubbing and much, much more, there are few films emulating a classic style that hit the nail quite so well on the head, as Bait, at least visually speaking, feels entirely like a classic film, with the same sense of tangibility that I thought was entirely unique to films of the past.
But what’s more is that it’s not just a gimmick. It’s easy to make a distinctive style stand out, but Bait doesn’t only rely on your appreciation of its visuals, instead using that style to great effect, playing into the film’s story and atmosphere perfectly throughout.
On the one hand, there’s something about black-and-white cinematography, scratched celluloid and that unmissable style of slightly-off sound dubbing which brings real tension and eeriness to the picture. Think how many classic horrors and thrillers are made all the more unsettling simply by their visual style, from the original Frankenstein to Eyes Without A Face, and from Diabolique to Woman In The Dunes.
As a result, as Bait tells the story of a local Cornish fisherman becoming increasingly frustrated with the influx of middle-class holidaymakers in his community, the visuals really play into building that tension between him and those that we see as ‘the invaders’, instilling real excitement into seemingly everyday conversations, and further bringing that core theme and frustration to the centre of attention.
On the flipside, the stark contrast between the film’s old-age style and its modern setting brings both an intriguing element of drama and a good bit of humour to the table too. Simply seeing modern cars, smartphones and more on what looks like a classic film is entertainingly strange, but the contrast between the two vastly different time periods also mirrors the impact of the new world and money on a traditional community.
As our main man sticks to his principles, desperately trying to keep his traditional business alive while those around him have changed to accommodating tourists, the presence of a ‘foreign’ force feels all the more strong, as if there are people in a place where they naturally shouldn’t belong, much like those modern elements on classic celluloid.
It’s a very clever use of visual style from director Mark Jenkin, and it makes what is at first an unassuming story about a struggling seaside community into a riveting look at a far more widespread phenomenon, asking whether the influx of money to ‘support’ local business is actually what the locals want and appreciate.
That core theme is fascinating, and there are times when the strained relationship between the locals and holidaymakers boils over in some fantastically tense scenes. However, when the film isn’t at its most suspenseful, there are times when it feels quite a bit more underwhelming, lacking the intense drama or bold thematic depth that its best moments have, something that becomes unfortunately more commonplace towards the finale.
That’s not to say Bait is in any way a boring film, but it doesn’t follow a particularly consistent track of tension and drama, instead bounding up and down between exhilarating highs and some more underwhelming lows.
With that said, however, at just 89 minutes, Bait packs a huge amount into an incredibly short time. An often intense and unsettling drama, and at times a clever and humorous watch, it’s an engrossing watch throughout, and with such a bold, effective and appropriate visual style thrilling throughout, it’s a film entirely deserving of high praise, and that’s why I’m giving Bait a 7.6 overall.