DIRECTOR Dominic Brunt WRITER Paul Roundell STARS Victoria Smurfit; Joanne Mitchell; Jonathan Slinger DVD 7 September
Coming from TV soap background — specifically Emmerdale, not known for its high-octane thrill factor — husband-and-wife duo Dominic Brunt and Joanne Mitchell are unlikely candidates for effective horror filmmaking. Yet, this second feature, following 2013’s Before Dawn, indicates that they will be a formidable team. In fact, they already are; Bait is a film that burrows beneath your skin from the off.
In fact, it is the team’s soap background — writer Paul Roundell also hails from Emmerdale, as does editor David Mercer — that gives Bait its hook. Bar the exploitation feel of a visually strong and bloody opening scene, the first act is driven by a kitchen-sink drama that paints a false sense of security: the seemingly quiet and uneventful life of working-class Northern England. A strong cast naturally bounce off each other to complement this sense of the everyday, Victoria Smurfit’s Bex, one half of our protagonist pair, particularly good as the confident wisecracker to Mitchell’s shyer character, Dawn. Blips of unromantically stark violence therefore jolt the senses, as Mercer’s sly edit ekes out the tension to unbearable levels.
As a ‘real horror’ story of the everyman’s vulnerability in our current climate, Bait was in need of a believable villain. As Brunt comments in the film’s making-of, the generic London gangster is a cartoonish figure, and his decision for an inconspicuous antagonist pays dividends. Jonathan Slinger shines in an excellent performance as Jeremy, the loan shark ruling the village by fear. Initially charming, the actor brings a sinisterness to his role that is genuinely frightening, switching between his character traits with a remarkable ease that coasts the film’s edit, his hatred and disregard creeping up on the viewer with intense clarity. The sheer tautness of this portrayal is very impressive for Roundell, here making his feature debut.
The third act is driven by a palpable fear, culminating in explosive violence that in lesser hands would feel cliched, however the tension thus far conveys the women’s desperation so effectively that the viewer will be screaming for vengeance. But to label Bait as a simple revenge movie would do the film a disservice; this is a social commentary that elegantly touches on class divide and is at times a genuinely upsetting experience. An end-of-credits claymation sequence by Lee Hardcastle provides light relief.