Dominic Brunt’s second feature Bait premiered at FrightFest* 2015 (following his debut Before Dawn in 2012), the tag line for which screams “Hell Hath No Fury”. However, within the first ten/twenty minutes it becomes apparent that there is a lot more going on than just a woman scorned – try a punch square in the face from a shovel-sized fist for starters.
Set in an unnamed Northern town amid financial ruin, poverty lurks on every corner and for single mother Dawn (Joanne Mitchell) and best friend Bex (Victoria Smurfit) life is hard. Their market-based coffee and cake stall needs to survive (and expand) and the only way that will happen is a loan; something the bank and building society are reluctant to accommodate. Enter camel-coated Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger) who is amiable, generous and determined to help the girls out… Yep, you have guessed it, the worm turns and there is more to Jezza than meets the eye, namely psychopathy and the need to bleed trusting, hardworking people dry and then to just, well, make them bleed.
Bait is an ambitious, twisted little tale; quintessentially British, highly topical and its subject matter will, no doubt, strike a chord with most. What is particularly interesting is the way in which fear effects people, their decision making and ability to perpetuate violence skewed from terror. The female characters are mostly well-written, although Bex feels a little one-dimensional as the token ‘gobby’ one, which is a real shame as Smurfit tends to be excellent in everything else. Mitchell is great and certainly delivers a credible performance, there is a real vulnerability to Dawn. Slinger, however, is the standout. His Jeremy is a fantastic incarnation, a sociopath prone to snapping, his lack of empathy renders him inhuman and his general sneering nature means he practically slithers off screen and yet remains wholly believable.
The girls’ retribution is slow in coming (although we know it will, given the opening moments of the film), however, when it does, oh boy, it is brutal. Everything is throw in, including the bathroom sink and for such a low-budget the make-up FX are suitably gruesome and gory. The angry spurts of violence throughout the film is somewhat ageless and genderless, often depicted through vignettes and shows the consequences of dealings with the loan shark and his hired muscle (Adam Fogerty) but by the end vengeance is grotesque, bloody and a tad indulgent; it stretches the credulity of even the most committed horror fan. Paul Blondell’s script is taut and Brunt has directed a nasty little monster movie albeit in a social-realist setting but this viewer grows a little weary of bloodied bra-clad women in jeopardy.
*FrightFest = the greatest horror film festival London has to offer.