Searching for original cinema can be a hard task these days. More often than not we see the same stories, told the same way, over and over again. But director Mark Jenkin’s Bait is something different. This boldly original tale is fresh in both its subject matter and construction, and for those looking for something different, well, you’ll find it here.
Martin Ward (Rowe) is a fisherman in a picturesque Cornish village. He struggles to make ends meet fishing without a boat, while his brother Steven uses their late father’s vessel to offer cruise trips to visiting tourists.
Meanwhile, tensions arise between Martin and the out-of-town Leigh family, who use the harbour-front ‘Skipper’s Cottage’ they bought from Martin and Steven as a seasonal holiday home and short-term rental business.
Writer-director Mark Jenkin makes his directorial debut with Bait, and the result is a wildly original and completely primal piece of art. Jenkin not only wrote and directed Bait, but also acted as the film’s cinematographer and editor, and in doing so created a singular vision with his debut film. When you strip away its style and production, Bait is a rather simple tale of a local fisherman, Martin Ward (Edward Rowe), who is struggling to make his way in a changing environment and who comes into conflict with an out-of-town family, The Leigh’s, who have moved into his former home and turned it into a local tourist attraction. While this narrative might be simple, and almost mundane, the attention that Jenkin gives to it brings about a sharp level of depth, intrigue and mounting tension that only moves the film forward toward its shocking conclusion.
Alongside its narrative, what sets Bait aside from any other piece of cinema is how Jenkin has captured it. Jenkin’s instrument for Bait was a vintage hand-cranked Bolex camera, using 16mm monochrome film that he hand-processed, and it makes for a very unique cinematic presentation. Watching its presentation, you can see the rifts and grain of the film stock, and with its laid-over voice track, Bait makes for an extremely experimental, yet uniquely original cinematic experience. Jenkin clearly understands how his film is presented and he uses this for effect in such a way that watching Bait feels like you’re experiencing a surrealist dream. Jenkin’s back and forth cutting technique also provides plenty of flavour and audiences will be kept on edge the whole time.
Bait is ultimately the product of experimental art meeting narrative film, and in watching it you feel like this film has had a hand on it. You can feel the manual process that has gone into making it a reality and the result is something completely different. It’s so rare for any kind of modern filmmaker to step into a position like this, even more so with their directorial debut, but Jenkin succeeds because of the risk involved in bringing this film into reality. Helping Jenkin in the success of Bait is actor Edward Rowe as the film’s lead character, Martin Ward, an everyman character who is beset by hard times and who through the film’s narrative becomes a seething force of resentment and bitterness. Jenkin’s style in Bait amplifies Rowe’s performance and makes the film that much more edgy and unnerving because of it, and the audience can’t help but be caught off guard because of it.
Bait is something truly different, and true cinema aficionados will get a kick out of this one. It’s fascinating to see that experimentation is still strong in the cinematic arts, and the voice and passion of a filmmaker like Mark Jenkin suggests real promise for the future of cinema.