REEL Review – Bait (2019)

Director: Mark Jenkin | Runtime: 1h 29mins | Drama

A once thriving fishing village in the heart of Cornwall is under threat from an ever increasing horde of tourists. Tensions rise as Fisherman Martin (Edward Rowe) has been forced to sell his childhood home and his brother Steven (Giles King) uses their late fathers old boat as a short tourist trip around the cove.

There’s many unique aspects to Mark Jenkins Cornish-focused feature Bait; how deeply it’s routed in Cornish culture, the wonderfully sporadic but purposeful editing style, the 16mm hand cranked film camera he used to shoot with, or even how he developed all the film himself to bring a flawed but raw aesthetic to the piece. Whichever you go with, Jenkins certainly wanted to create a distinctive feel to this fisherman’s tale.

If you were to describe the story of a fisherman versus incoming tourists in a small sailing village, it’d be hard to explain the tension the situation creates. Bait creates an excellent bridge between the older Cornwall of prolific fishermen providing for their town, and the modern reality of city folk using their idyllic home as a quiet getaway – eroding the culture as they do so. Much of the focus is around cove fisherman Martin as he struggles to keep afloat without his boat, using a difficult and ultimately unrewarding technique of a shore net waiting for the tide. He and his brother sell their fathers old house after he passes to a tourist family using it to rent out to holiday makers – the Leighs.

“You didn’t have to sell us the house”, they say. “Didn’t we?” Martin bites back. There isn’t a huge boiling hatred between them at first, he’s unhappy with their presence but doesn’t attempt to force them out – an aspect that makes this film so quintessentially British. The confrontation is constantly on the edge of something, but you never quite know what, whether they’ll just walk away or the tension will explode into violence. Though Martin is rude in his bluntness, he doesn’t cause excessive stress for the non-locals.

Issues with Martin’s brother Steven are always on his mind as well, the repurposing of the boat creating a rift between them as one adapts to the changing town and the other clings onto the past. Steven’s son Neil (played by Isaac Woodvine) see’s Martins side though, as he progressively gets more involved with the fishing side of the family business, though it’s problematic for Neil as a romance starts to blossom with the daughter of the Leighs.

The aged look of the film and the small town setting making Bait feel like an entirely symbolic piece rather than a literal story unfolding in front of us.

The narrative flows effortlessly throughout, though it’s likely not the most memorable aspect. Because of the nature of how it’s shot no on-set sound could be used, so the entire soundscape is created in post production. For some, this may seem like a limitation, but Jenkins uses this to his advantage, creating a almost dreamlike effect intertwined with the aged look of the film and the small town setting, making Bait feel like a entirely symbolic piece rather than an literal story unfolding in front of us, emphasising the core of the film – people hearing each other, but not understanding one another.

The pacing takes interesting dips and dives throughout, some of the most effecting sequences play with time by juxtaposes mere frames of how the sequence will end, showing us before it plays out. It’s a fascinating experiment as the frames we’re shown aren’t then shown, instead we leap past. It’s a director who wants to play with the cinematic language, trusting his audience at the same time as making it accessible enough for anyone. It’s a delicate tight rope to balance that Jenkins superbly works with. Alongside this, he almost creates action through snappy edits in dialogue heavy sections, using multiple conversations to tell one coherent story.

It isn’t all doom and gloom (despite the dark black and white visuals), as Martin’s wise cracks and bartender Wenna (Chloe Endean) breaking the ice throughout. The levity helps to ground the tension, as it helps to reinforce the humanity of the situation.

Bait is borderline experimental cinema, but widely accessibly in the process. At it’s core it wants us to think about others point of view, even if it seems deeply egregious to our own, but masks this with complex sequences of net tying and lobster catching, becoming one of the most unique British films for some time.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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