Movie Review: Bait18th February 2020
Technical prowess has always impressed me. I look back and think of amazing camera efforts from directors like Martin Scorsese or films where the story building is blended into the direction and suave camera movements in something like Brazil. These aspects of filmmaking always impress me, so to dust off an old Bolex hand-crank camera to be used in a modern film is quite the feat of both endurance and effort. Bait looks to combine the old necessity of the 16mm camera with a modern tale of a fisherman on the brink of collapse.
It isn’t just a technically impressive film, it’s also a competently crafted narrative piece that brings about the strengths of its performers and director. Edward Rowe stars as the aforementioned fisherman, Martin Ward, who seems to be going through a setlist of mid-life crises. His fishing boat has been recommissioned as a tourist attraction, the house he grew up in as a child taken away by opportune tourists and he struggles to hold down a consistent wage as he attempts to save up for a boat of his own.
We’re slowly given these details through a slow first half hour, but if you can stick with it then you’ll find a marvellous piece of film wrapped in some impressive and interesting technical works. Director Mark Jenkin has his work cut out for him and it’s especially sublime to see considering this is his debut picture. He crafts the film with a real confidence lacking in some directors that have been firmly rooted in genre films for years. His dedication to picking apart a modern story but styling it in a unique way sets it apart from a great deal of films that are already available.
Most surprising of all is that the story and technical merits of the film go more or less hand in hand. There’s no tug of war between the two, with performances that are nicely complimented by a talented cast that play into the limitations and benefits of filming and then dubbing the lines. The technical merits are bolstered by these strong performances the whole way through, and I found myself actively rooting for and despising certain characters, it’s always great when a film so small can elicit such strong emotions from its audience. There are scenes within Bait where you’ll hopefully realise that such a story couldn’t be told with conventional formatting or camera work.
I can’t say I’ll ever watch Bait again, because its blending of a contemporary story with old school camerawork only has one round in it. The film is long enough to provide an engaging and fulfilling story, yet not long enough to give off a real reason or need to watch it once more. Some tropes where a scene is thrown in at seemingly random times to highlight aspects of symbolism is overused and does feel like a bit of a narrative breakdown, pulling me out of the moment more often than not. Even then, though, I can’t fault the film all that much considering the limitations that are purposefully set up, and how Jenkins overcomes them with relative ease.
Bait is something new, and it makes itself new and interesting by reforming a style of cinema so old and dusty that the simple act of considering utilising this camera and work ethic is quite possibly insane. Jenkins is insane for even attempting this, but he’s rightfully lauded for somehow pulling it off alongside an incredibly talented cast of unknown individuals. A proper British flick, one that’ll be recognised as an impersonation of innovation, where its director has dusted off an old camera and set to work. This somewhat reinvention of the wheel is an enjoyable time, and it’s great to see that it pays off.