(5 / 5)
Mark Jenkin’s Bait feels like a treasure carved out of the rocky Cornish coastline.
Mark Ward (Clive Rowe) is a growling, taciturn fisherman who refuses to change with the times. His older brother (Giles King) has started using their late father’s boat to do day trips, which Mark disdains; restricting him to using nets on the beach.
Mark’s chiselled nephew Neil (Isaac Woodvine) is more of his mind; eager to help out and make a few quid – and a few quid it is. Mark keeps his share in a tin in the kitchen labelled ‘Boat’, though it’s indeterminate if that will ever become a reality.
A self-satisfied London couple have “bought the street” that runs along the harbour. To add insult to injury, they now live in the Ward’s old family home, which they’ve converted into a kitschy getaway – complete with porthole. The only slight benefit of the influx of tourists, mostly bored teens, is that it allows Mark to sell his meagre catch of “local produce” to the local pub landlady (Stacey Guthrie) at an inflated cost.
Shot on grainy monochrome stock – with a wind-up 16mm Bolux camera no less – Bait might initially feel like an old-fashioned travelogue, but Jenkin’s use of non-diegetic sound, all recorded post-production, immediately takes us out of the kitchen-sink realism; grounding us in something altogether more rough-hewn and experimental.
Bait uses extreme close-ups montage to draw out the claustrophobic tension that lies beneath seemingly every interaction between local and Ranger-Rover-driving, Prosecco-drinking tourist – like in Mark’s repeated encounters with the feckless, supercilious Tim Leigh (Simon Shepherd, wonderfully infuriating) on the doorstep of Mark’s former home, usually on the topic of parking.
Sandra Leigh (Mary Woodvine) is at least less hypocritical in her supposed civic-mindedness; pointing out to a complaining AirBnB guest that, “It is a fishing village”. Even so, the English cream teas are a far different sort of tradition from the customary bag of fish Mark hangs on his neighbour’s front doors each day as gift.
Cutting steadily back and forth between a disagreement between acerbic barmaid Wella (Chloe Endean) and the Leigh’s quivery son Hugo (Jowan Jacobs; the picture of wide-eyed entitlement) about a game of pool and a discussion about the future of the community with equal emphasis imbues every detail and gesture with a strange power, accruing power and significance.
Out-of-context flashes of certain images – a lofted pool ball, broken glass, a body falling – are so swift that you barely register them, that is until they take on their true significance.
While Jenkins’ Silent Landscape Dancing Grain 13 manifesto – which specifies, for instance, only the use of available lighting – clearly draws on the experimental filmmaking traditions of Lars Von Trier and Andrew Kötting, Bait also brought to mind some of my particular favourites: Patterson, without the sentiment; The Love Witch, in its studied tone and exacting eye for detail; even Dunkirk – one shot of the sea, like a churning pane of mercury.
Jenkin’s ambient synth score merges with Daniel Thompson’s sound design to create an experience that is both primal and crafted. Bait breaks on you with the strength of the sea. Let it draw you in and it’s certain to carry you away.