Bait is a strange but alluring film. Shot on 16mm without any on-location sound (dialogue and effects were later dubbed in), the film is developed by hand, resulting in all the imperfections and scratches of the medium’s early form. This contrasts with the contemporary tone and plot of the story, producing a film with a modern message heightened by a uniquely anachronistic delivery method from director Mark Jenkin.
The story is set in a Cornish fishing village, as Martin (Edward Rowe) clashes with his brother Steven (Giles King) while conducting tours catering to wealthy tourists. The people who now flood the village each summer are also joined by wealthy seasonal residents, including Tim (Simon Shepherd) and Sandra (Mary Woodvine), a couple who have bought the brothers’ former family home. Martin clashes with them and bemoans the influx of outsiders, as his nephew deals with an attraction to the couple’s daughter, much to the chagrin of her brother.
In Bait, Jenkin uses a fundamentally different set of cinema grammar that most viewers won’t be familiar with. There is frequently quite a slow nature to the editing, with numerous elements given unusually ample room to breathe. As a situation becomes more tense, the director includes a close-up of a character forming a fist, for example, or he’ll linger on money that is reluctantly changing hands. At the same time, Jenkin — who also edited the film — will frequently use a montage to draw parallels between characters and imagery. The final feeling, therefore, echoes early silent films.
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The story has a real contemporary edge that stops Bait from being merely an interesting visual experiment (as intriguing as that is). The interactions between permanent and seasonal locals are drawn from real experiences and will be familiar to anyone in a tourist hotspot that suddenly finds their home surrounded by Airbnb rentals. The plot fully kicks into gear when Martin has a disagreement over parking with Tim and Sandra. Rowe’s performance, in particular, and the editing Jenkin employs, ratchet up the tension in a film that has merely acquainted the audience with its peculiar rhythm until that point.
Although the filmmaking is executed with passion and seriousness, Bait’s story is not as dour as one might expect. The disdain of the locals also holds some fantastic expletive-laden one-liners that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of The Thick of It. If there are any shortcomings, it’s that the day-trippers and summer-makers are perhaps too much of a caricature of privileged arseholes; all of them possess both rounded vowels and financial obliviousness. It’s a minor complaint, however, about what are extremely well-drawn characters, even those with little screen time.
The experimental nature of Jenkin’s production means it might take a few scenes to really get hooked. Bait reels the audience in, however, by casting a uniquely strange line, capturing elements of old and new cinema.
Jim Ross (@JimGR) is a film critic and film journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the Managing Editor and co-founder of TAKE ONE Magazine, which began as the official review publication of the Cambridge Film Festival and now covers film festivals and independent film worldwide. Jim hosted a fortnightly film radio show on Cambridge 105FM from 2011-2013 and joined the crew of Cinetopia, on Edinburgh community radio EH-FM, in 2019.