Review: Bait

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Bait, the idiosyncratic new film from Cornish director Mark Jenkin, uses vintage analogue methods to build a thoroughly modern and essential story. Originally released by the BFI in August, it is only now receiving a full national release (it’ll be showing at the Hyde Park Picture House all this week). Part kitchen sink drama and part distorted expressionism, Bait works phenomenally in reinventing the form whilst poignantly depicting its central issue.

Resentful and taciturn fisherman Martin (played by Edward Rowe) finds it hard to adapt to change in his small seaside town amid an influx of tourists. Whilst his brother, who has turned their fishing boat into a party cruise for stag nights, seems resigned to their new lives, Martin is fierce in his defence of his livelihood and culture. Conflict comes when he takes a stand against a family from London who have bought and renovated their childhood home, and Bait plays expertly with fragmented editing in order to draw you into the suffocating rhythm of their impasse.

Jenkin filmed Bait himself with a clockwork camera on rugged and grainy monochrome 16mm film, and hand processed it in a chemical concoction comprised mainly of instant coffee. The sound of the film, overdubbed in post-production as a result of the noise of the camera itself drowning out the actors, is crucial to its atmosphere. Dense and unearthly, at times it feels like you’re listening from underwater. The dialogue is stilted yet grand, with a highlight being the acerbically delivered “he was so posh, I honestly thought he was speaking German”.

Given this remarkably handmade process, it’s no surprise that Bait feels tactile and alive; scratches and burns frequently mar the screen and the camera shakes and tremors, lending the action unfolding on screen an intensity and gravity that wouldn’t be possible with digital methods. Bold and experimental, it’s visual style alone makes it a stand-out in recent British film.

So aggressively gritty and analogue in its appearance, it is therefore striking how modern the world Bait presents is. Jenkin originally conceived the film twenty years ago as a surrealistic civil war breaking out between Cornwall locals and invading day-trippers from the city. With age the premise has stretched from farce to realism, and tensions bubbling over seem somehow both timeless and extremely relevant to our current climate. Embedded in the film is a sense of panic about the erosion of local culture, yet the audience is so absorbed into his world that Martin’s alienation feels universal. Building up steadily to its shocking conclusion, Bait feels like the kind of film that will be remembered for years to come, if not for its contemporary importance, then certainly for the magic each frame seems to hold.

Image Credit: Mark Jenkin