Bait is a true cinematic experience, utilising every tool in film school to make a seemingly non-descript melodrama into a gripping feature. Developed on 16mm film, Mark Jenkin’s Cornish feature, emanates a detachment in keeping with the locals of the fishing village that it documents. At times, it feels like an old BBC newsreel, the mundanity of everyday life fighting with the struggle at the centre of the film. Jenkin edits his film sublimely, ramping up the tension at every opportunity, turning a minor squabble between a fisherman and encroaching tourists into a full-blown drama. Although, the film has a tendency to overdo it on the cinematic techniques, it’s also one of its greatest strengths. This is a brilliant debut, reminiscent of classic British filmmakers such as Ken Loach.
Martin Ward (Edward Rowe) rebels against the gradual gentrification of his tiny, Cornish fishing village. His brother Steven (Giles King) uses their family boat to take tourists on tours of the coastline and his family home has been sold as a summer home to a family of posh tourists. Martin wants to return the village to how it was, pettily irritating the tourists and slowly building up money by selling his measly catch to the local pub. All of his money is deposited into a biscuit tin labelled “BOAT”. Tensions rise between tourists and locals as Martin’s nephew Neil (Isaac Woodvine) begins a summer romance with Katie (Georgia Ellery), the daughter of the family that’s moved into his father’s old home. As Martin’s frustration rises, so does the tension in the village, leading to confrontation and fatal consequences in this parochial melodrama.
There is so much attention to detail in Bait that it’s clear this story has a place in Jenkin’s heart. A Cornish man himself, Jenkin paints the tiny cove in documentarian strokes, capturing country life’s small facets in a beautifully detached manner. The decision to use 16mm is inspired, giving the whole piece a nostalgic feel, emphasising Martin’s desire for a return to the old ways of the village. At times, it seems as if aspects of the film have been lifted straight from an Enid Blyton novel. Indeed, as the films crackles, it feels as if Bait could have been an old home-video, rediscovered years after its creators have passed.
Jenkin’s dedication to old cinema-craft and, at times, surreal editing elevates the film to an even greater level. Dialogue is overdubbed, sound effects seem both immediate and ethereal and arguments are spliced together with uncomfortable close-ups to create something that feels alien, despite its generic story roots. One scene in particular stands out as two arguments play out in the local pub, each character responding to a different argument in a dizzying dance of spectacular wordplay. Jenkin edits in such a way to transform the mundane into a tense affair.
There are some techniques, such as the use of flash-forwards, which feel a little forced. As if the director was trying to employ every technique he could think of, to create a piece of art, as opposed to a film. Thankfully, however, these are few and far between and hardly detract from a fantastic achievement.
Bait is unlike anything I have seen in the cinema in recent years. A testament to experimental film, Mark Jenkin transforms his typical locals v tourists into an expressionist piece of work that keeps you glued to the screen. Even as his protagonist slowly drags his net in, you can’t help but stare at the detached anti-beauty that is presented on screen. If you do look away, you might miss something.
Ewan Wood | [rating=4]
Drama | UK, 2019 | 15 | 30th August 2019 (UK) | BFI Distribution | Dir. Mark Jenkin | Edward Rowe, Mary Woodvine, Giles King, Simon Shepherd, Georgia Ellery