Bait – VIFF 2019 Review

Cornish writer-director Mark Jenkin has, with his debut feature film Bait, created a daringly original and unique film that feels like a found artifact from an antiquated era. Shot on 16mm black-and-white Kodak film stock with a 43-year-old wind-up Bolex camera, there’s an unmistakable Dogme vibe to Jenkin’s class clash picture (Jenkin’s authored a very similar “Silent Landscape Dancing Grain 13 Film Manifesto” which is all about embracing handmade celluloid film work).

Set in a touristy Cornish village where boorish long-time denizen and fisherman Martin (Edward Rowe) feels infringed upon by vacationers who scoff at his long held traditions and leave him near destitute. With his boat no longer seaworthy and his family home now the property of some stuffy Londoners, Martin is fuming and at his wit’s end. As it unfolds in a truly and admirably antiquated fashion––critics and cineastes have justifiably drawn comparisons to Soviet silent film-era pioneer Segei Eisenstein, for instance––Bait also seems to reimagine Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971) only here we’re cheering for the local residents.

Martin feels abandoned by his brother Steven (Giles King), particularly after he restored and re-purposed his boat, turning it into, of all things, a tourist tripper.

Playing favorites for a staccato style as well as abrupt and often deliberately disorienting visual compositions and cuts, as in a tense pub scene anticipating one of Martin’s outbursts, Jenkin’s creates an idiosyncratic yet altogether awesome and unconventional showdown. Not content with just being Bait’s writer-director, he is also the film’s cinematographer, editor, and composer.

The narrative that Jenkin’s presents us in Bait, essentially framed around a longish flashback becomes something surprisingly mosaic-like, makes it a difficult film to ascribe a genre to. One part class polemic, it also has the nerve of a Western, the anxiety-building heft of a thriller, and even the sighing yen of a melodrama while also being a very British tone poem.

A parable that unfolds along the sea, Bait moves at times towards almost objective realism and subjective fantasy while packing an emotional punch. With weighty themes of gentrification and societal struggle as tourism wracks up against the old ways of a fishing village, Jenkin’s justifies his stylish and witty tale with a marvellous expertise. It’s not just one of the best films to show at VIFF 2019, it’s one of the year’s finest as well.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.