Bait (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A odd, distinctive filmmaking exercise

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British independent film “Bait” is an odd, distinctive piece of filmmaking exercise you will not easily forget. Adamantly rough and old-fashioned in technical aspects, the movie feels rather distant and disorienting at times, but it still works on the whole as a tense, melancholic class drama, and I observed it with curiosity and fascination even though not quite sure whether I understood everything presented on the screen.

The main background of the movie is a small fishing village in Cornwall, England, and the opening shot introduces us to Martin Ward (Edward Rowe), a sullen and disgruntled fisherman who has been quite sour about his current economic circumstance. Not long after his father died, Martin’s brother Steven (Giles king) decided to sell their old family residence at the local harbor in addition to re-purposing their old fishing boat as a cruise boat for tourists coming into the village, and Martin is still not so pleased about his brother’s decision as he does not have a boat for fishing anymore. At least, Steven’s son Neil (Isaac Woodvine) is willing to help Martin whenever he is available, and we later see them collecting a few fishes they manage to catch on a nearby beach.

That family residence of Martin is recently sold to an affluent urban middle-class family, who is going to stay there during the holiday season while also renting the attic for earning some extra money. When Martin happens to encounter Tim Leigh (Simon Shepherd) and his wife Sandra (Mary Woodvine), it is pretty clear to us that Martin has lots of resentment toward Tim and Sandra, and, not so surprisingly, he soon comes to conflict with them over a trivial matter of parking his old shabby truck in front of his former residence.

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In case of Tim and Sandra’s children Katie (Georgia Ellery) and Hugo (Jowan Jacobs), they are usually occupied with having fun as much as possible in the village. While Hugo occasionally dives into the sea, Katie becomes interested in getting a bit closer to Neil, and Neil does not mind that at all although Hugo is not so amused to see what is going on between his sister and Neil.

Anyway, these and other young people in the village usually spend their evening at a local pub which has been managed by a no-nonsense lady named Liz (Stacey Guthrie), and Martin drops by this place from time to time. While he glumly drinks his beer as usual, he is approached by Wenna (Chloe Endean), and we come to gather that there is some past between her and Martin, as she attempts to flirt a little with him.

Once everything in the story is established, director/writer Martin Jenkin, who also served as an editor/cinematographer/composer during the production of the film, dials up the level of suspense shot by shot. Whenever things get a little more tense, he frequently throws sudden disorienting shots which imply to us something bad to happen sooner or later, and his ambient score further accentuates that ominous impression as the circumstance becomes more intense between Martin and Tim. While Martin shows more spite and aggression, Tim and Sandra try to stick to their position as before, and this conflict between two parties also affects Martin’s estranged relationship with Steven, who simply wants his brother to accept and follow what is inevitable in his viewpoint.

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As we gradually come to discern where its story is heading, the movie continues to engage and intrigue us with its distinctive cinematic quality. Although it is set in the 21st century modern background as reflected by a few details glimpsed from the screen, the movie was shot by a Bolex camera in 16mm monochromatic film which was personally processed by Jenkin himself, so the screen is constantly filled with deliberately imperfect signs here and there. Because the sound could not be recorded on the set, all the dialogues and sound effects in the film were dubbed during the post-production period, and that surely adds an extra layer of odd feeling to the screen. In the end, the overall result feels like a dubbed silent black and white film from the early 20th century, and the visible discrepancy between its cinematic style and period background is alternatively jarring and intriguing.

Although the characters in the film are more or less than broad archetypes, the main performers in the film ably handle their several tense dramatic moments magnified by frequent close-up shots, and we come to care about what may happen among them in spite of mostly observing them from the distance. Constantly believable in his character’s gradual accumulation of frustration and exasperation, Edward Rowe steadily holds the center, and he is particularly terrific when his character silently but forcefully confronts a certain supporting character later in the story. In case of the other main cast members, Mary Woodvine and Simon Shepherd are effective as counterparts to Rowe, and Georgia Ellery, Jowan Jacobs, Stacey Guthrie, Chloe Endean, Isaac Woodvine, and Giles King are also solid as other crucial parts of the story.

Overall, “Bait”, which was recently nominated for the Outstanding British Film of the Year award at the BAFTA Film Awards, is definitely not something you can casually watch for entertainment, but I think you should take a chance with it, especially if you are looking for something different and challenging. To be frank with you, I am still scratching my head a bit, but I also vividly remember a number of strong moments in the film, and it will be really interesting to see what Jenkin will show us next after this fascinating cinematic experiment.

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