Review: Bait (Dir. Dominic Brunt, 2015)


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. 


Review: The Babadook (Dir. Jennifer Kent, 2014)

“If it’s in a word, or in a look, you can’t get rid of the babadook…”


For Amelia (Essie Davis) every day is a challenge. Made increasingly difficult by her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Sam is an affectionate, energetic and boisterous little boy, wise beyond his years, avoided at school for being weird (potentially hyperactive) and between his obsession with magic, his preoccupation with keeping his mother safe from ‘monsters’ and his sleeplessness; he is – to put it mildly – hard work. His upcoming seventh birthday also happens to coincide with his father Oskar’s (Benjamin Winspear) violent death, a loss Amelia has yet to fully come to terms with. She is vacant, restless and on autopilot juggling single parenthood, her job as a carer, and looking in on elderly neighbour Grace Roach (Barbara West). A one-time children’s author, Amelia is able to quell Samuel’s night-time fears usually with a bedtime story until he selects Mister Babadook from the bookshelf. “It’s okay mum,” the brave little soldier declares “I’ll protect you.”


The Babadook is actress/writer Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, made for reportedly just $2.3 million and based upon her 2005 short Monster. Its cinematic palette takes its cues from the blue-black, white and grey of a pencil drawing and visually, the film’s fairy tale simplicity works incredibly well on the screen. It is rich, nostalgic yet somehow timeless and paints a deeply emotional and visceral gothic picture in which an audience is subject to the inside of the protagonist’s mind (think of a much subtler and aesthetically prettier The Shining). We see a relatable woman engulfed by grief, drowning under the weight of motherhood, and exhausted in the malevolence of depression. This verisimiliar performance steeped in empathy is testament to the supremely talented Davis who is as consistently wonderful as always (see in particular HBO’s Cloudstreet). However, in her Amelia we see complexity, a melancholic soul with an unravelling mind; her ferocity for life, love, even survival has been stifled, buried deeply.


The emotional profundity of this fabulous film makes it wholly affecting – an internal demon which manifests to test the protagonist’s strength. Whether she stands up, cowers, screams in its face or fights for her freedom remains to be seen. It may let her go…this time or as the childish rhyme suggests, it may never be vanquished. Go and experience The Babadook, it will touch you, scare you, get under your skin and remain there. It will make you feel, it may even cause you to shed a tear – honestly, when was the last time a horror film did that?

The Babadook opens nationwide on 24th October 2014

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