Bait Film Review
A classic story using a lo-fi monochrome aesthetic, Bait was one of the very original and stylistically daring films to world premiere in Berlin last week. It was taken in Cornwall in the far southwest of England, a rocky peninsula famous for its ruggedly beautiful coastline and its own impoverished local market, which is heavily determined by seasonal tourism.
Bait is grounded in simple, archetypal themes of tradition versus modernity, inferior natives against wealthy invaders. The surface plot has got the stark feel of classic neorealism, however there are far more intriguing layers happening under the scuffed surface as Jenkin detours into experimental montage technique, Guy Maddin-style retro pastiche and Language folk-horror tropes. Shooting with a vintage Bolex cine-camera on black-and-white 16mm movie, the manager subsequently hand-processed his footage to give it a scratchy, glitchy, antique feel. These arty factors must prove crucial in securing additional festival bookings for this ambitiously bizarre introduction, as well as supplying a marketable angle for potential market distributors.
Local Cornish comedian Edward Rowe stars as the film’s brooding anti-hero Martin Ward, a fisherman that has fallen on hard times, and largely blames the big-city tourists that have colonized his once-thriving coastal village with vacation houses that remain empty the majority of the year. This battle is personal for Martin, having been made to sell the scenic harborside cottage where he was raised into a wealthy London couple, Sandra and Tom Leigh (Mary Woodvine and Simon Shepherd), that have transformed it to a folksy holiday retreat.
As he scrapes a meager living from the seafood that he nets along the rocky coastline at dawn each day, Martin dreams of purchasing his own boat and moving back into fishing entire time. A slight dispute using the Leighs over parking his battered truck out their cottage soon escalates to a full-scale class war, which can be exacerbated with the budding sexual relationship between Martin’s handsome nephew Neil (Isaac Woodvine) and also the Leighs’ teenage daughter Katie (Georgia Ellery). This pressure-cooker mixture of suspicion and bitterness eventually boils over into confrontation, retribution and lethal violence.
The dramatic heart of Bait has a soap-opera simplicity that occasionally jars. Jenkin appears to sentimentalize the perishing hardscrabble traditions of Cornish fishing communities, and arguably exaggerates their redneck resistance to change to contrived effect. A few of the performances are rigid and several characters are crudely drawn, especially the posh outsiders out of London, that make Mike Leigh’s haughty upper-class caricatures appear subtle by comparison. Perhaps Jenkin’s selection of surname for your Leighs is an audience-nudging hint here, but it’s never completely clear if this coarse characterization is all part of the purposely formalist eyesight or only the inevitable effect of filmmaking inexperience and minimal funding.
But there’s sophistication and scholarship at work at Bait, also, particularly in its closely structured frame compositions, largely split by lateral and diagonal lines, and a recurring use of hushed movie-style facial close-ups to amplify melodrama. A handful of time-jumping montages also draw from the profound historical canon of experimental cinema, from Sergei Eisenstein into Nic Roeg and outside. Jenkin’s heavily stylized introduction is a disorienting experience at first, but it ultimately creates a boldly Expressionistic disposition of uncanny beauty and mesmerizing otherness. The manager’s own spare musical score, a sort of rapid-fire sea shanty woven from doleful drones and wheezes, just deepens this alluring aura of dreamlike strangeness.