Review: Bait (2019)

bait

What’s a fisherman without a boat?: Early Day Films

It’s an interesting idea, reviving the 16mm shot film, I’ll give them that. BAIT has to be the most unique film of 2019, first-time feature writer-director Mark Jenkin getting himself out there, in the UK and the film festival circuit at least, and standing out by doing things differently on an ultra-low budget.

An out-of-work fisherman struggles to make a living in a Cornish village that now makes more money from city folk holidaying and stag parties partying. Will Martin (Edward Rowe) keep his place on the world and heal the divide between his family and friends who have been more willing and able to move with the times?

There’s a charming handmade quality to everything in Bait. When I first got out of seeing it I had to think, what on Earth was that? It’s a bit of a shock to the system to see something so rough and ready on a big screen. It definitely has a slightly trial-and-error first feature feel to it but you’ve got to admire Jenkin’s ingenuity getting it made and all through the process making the imperfections found therein real virtues.

This story is clearly of a time and place, tactile and rooted in an ancient and tragically dying profession in the British Isles. It’s political, skirting around the B-word and quietly seething about the whole situation. We’ve seen a lot of agricultural dramas over the last couple of years incorporating upcoming upheaval in the UK into their plots, it’s quite surprising not more seem to be looking to the seas to comment on the future of an island nation.

The low-fi techniques used to develop the film stock (using coffee and vitamin powder, fact fans) and the different conditions, weather, times of day etc the process was conducted in results in vastly different effects from shot-to-shot. For instance, the glittery speckles you can see in some scenes are dust and sand that settled when Jenkin was developing the film with the door open, and you’re meant to notice. The artifice, the process of filmmaking is being exposed for all the world to see.

The repetition of Martin’s daily routine, the tediously meticulous processes of being a fisherman is thematically important but verge on testing your patience. I know you can only use the footage that you have but the quite janky editing was a distraction. This especially goes for when violence occurs in this story – it’s a dark and upsetting turn of events and you can wish for a bit more filmmaking polish to retain the impact of these crucial scenes.

The sound had to be post-synced, which can be slightly jarring but gives Jenkin the freedom to peel back layers of the soundtrack to reflect Martin’s mental and emotional state at key points. Again, it takes some getting used to but it certainly adds to the overall effect.

The mismatched performance styles (some naturalistic, some more theatrical) took me out of the story a little; it’s not surprising to learn the different acting backgrounds and experiences of different members of the cast.

Bait is a fascinating filmmaking experiment and an impressive debut despite lacking punchy execution of some of the story’s key dramatic beats. We should see more features coming out of Cornwall, of and about a particular and distinctive place and the continuing democratisation of cinema so everyone can muck in and have a go, whether the aim is disguising or highlighting the filmmaking process. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Bong Joon-ho, Danny Boyle, the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Taika Waititi and Edgar Wright. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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