Bait

11/02/20

We think we’ve missed Bait but, as we walk past the Odeon on Lothian Road this morning, Philip notices there’s a screening at 11am. We’re not working today, and the sky is too full of sleet to make outdoor pursuits attractive. So in we go, down a spiral staircase and into a crowded cinema.

The film is about to start. We’re barely settled in our seats before the opening credits roll, and this foreboding tale begins. We find ourselves in a tiny Cornish village, where Martin (Edward Rowe) is a fisherman scratching a living without a boat. He works tirelessly, using a beach seine and a single lobster pot, selling his catch door-to-door, saving the cash payments in a tin marked ‘Boat.’ His brother, Steven (Giles King), has repurposed their late father’s vessel as a tourist tripper, but Martin wants no part in that enterprise. He’s resentful of the rich incomers, epitomised by Sandra and Tim (Mary Woodvine and Simon Shepherd), who’ve bought up all the pretty quayside properties so they can rent them out to others like themselves (‘One of them was so posh, I honestly thought he was German,’ says Wenna (Chloe Endean), a local teenage barmaid, frustrated by the hordes of outsiders, making her feel like a stranger in her own locale). The tension is palpable. Clearly something has to give.

It’s only six days since we saw The Lighthouse, and there are some obvious comparisons. Both are shot in black and white with a square-ish frame (albeit slightly different ratios). They’re both slow and brooding, too, with minimal dialogue and brutally realistic depictions of manual work. But Bait is a far superior film, at once broader in outlook and more particular.

It’s utterly compelling, the extended silences are excruciating, the characterisation painfully believable. The moneyed visitors are blinkered, ignorant of the devastation their presence has wrought on this small community, confident that their payments entitle them to what they want. But they’re not caricatures: we witness Sandra’s guilt as she glimpses what Martin is up against; we hear Tim’s justification about the business he’s bringing to the village he has grown to love. It’s just that the two ways of life are incompatible and, as ever, it’s the poor and working class who end up dispossessed.

Although the setting is contemporary, the film looks like a 1950s documentary, all scratchy  and old-fashioned, adding to the sense that what Martin wants is – irrevocably – in the past. His nephew, Neil (Isaac Woodvine), hankers after what is gone as well, although that doesn’t stop him hooking up with Sandra’s daughter, Katie (Georgia Ellory), much to her brother Hugo (Jowan Jacobs)’s dismay. The scene is set for a perfect storm…

Bait is a splendid example of low-budget independent film-making, and writer/director Mark Jenkin is clearly one to watch.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

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