It may look like it was made on a shoestring 50 years ago, but this abrasive seaside parable is a quietly thrilling piece of filmmaking. Using old 16mm cameras, scratchy black-and-white stock and a handful of coastal locations, Cornish writer-director Mark Jenkin has conjured up something truly arresting: a debut film rooted in local traditions, with a dark humour and an atmosphere that’s as brooding as its Atlantic backdrop.
Filmed mostly in unblinking close-ups, its central character is scowling Cornish fisherman Martin (Edward Rowe). He’s a fundamentally good-hearted man who nurses a bundle of unexpressed grudges over the flood of new money into his fishing village. His equally gruff brother (Giles King) uses their dad’s old trawler to take tourists on pleasure cruises, while the family’s quayside home has been sold to the kind of well-heeled urbanites Martin so resents. To add insult to injury, they’ve installed a porthole.
‘Bait’ is a story of gentrification and class friction that builds and builds, searching for the release that inevitably comes. But it has deeper currents too, as Jenkin explores the day-to-day slog of maintaining a generations-old way of life – you’ll learn a lot about lobster potting – and the near-spiritual pain of being prised, like a barnacle off a rock, from your place in life by forces beyond your control. He’s abetted in that by a wonderfully human performance from Rowe, all bruised pride and righteous fury.
It’s clear where Jenkin’s sympathies lie, and one or two of the middle-class characters tiptoe towards caricature, but ‘Bait’ never feels polemical or didactic: it’s more of a quiet lament than a shaking fist. It feels almost like a modern-day sea shanty. Let its hypnotic rhythms wash over you.