STARBURST: As with Before Dawn, one of the themes of Bait is monsters and the effect they have on people – although here the monsters are ordinary human beings who do terrible things to other human beings. But Bait is more grounded and relatable. How would you categorise the film?
Dominic Brunt: To me, Before Dawn isn’t really a genre piece, it’s more of a domestic drama and the horror was allegorical and Bait is similar in that it’s a thriller first and foremost, but I like to take things to the worst case scenario; taking an excessive situation and seeing how far you can possibly push it whilst staying faithful to the central idea. But as far as I’m concerned it’s also an out and out horror film; on the surface it’s a thriller but we’re dealing with monsters no different from any other monster, totally without conscience, they’re animals after their prey. That’s how they live and behave and it’s how they feed themselves. I actually describe it as a ‘violent female revenge thriller’ and I called it that even when it was just in script form, and it was great to see how far we could take that because you’ve got to try and get noticed somehow and rather than being a polite thriller with a polite ending, it’s great to do what we feel we do best and push things to an absolute extreme.
The film’s credits tell us that it’s ‘based on true events’. What did you find out about the world of debt collectors when you were putting the film together and how did that influence the story you wanted to tell?
It’s actually based on three stories, especially one from the UK, which involved a really unpleasant gang of people. The more we read about these people, the more we thought we were going over the top and the more we thought ‘Wow, we couldn’t really go far enough’; these people are alive and if you Google ‘loan shark’ and any town or city there’s a glut of stories out there, but we chose three specific stories that are true and just bent them to our needs. Being a horror film fan, it always seemed that no matter how bad a horror film was, real life and what human beings do to each other can more often than not be far worse, far more violent and upsetting and scary than anything that a monster or a paranormal force can do in your imagination and the more we read about loan sharks and what they did in real life, the more we thought ‘Jesus, these are the real monsters.’ We got a structure together and then passed that to Paul Roundell and then he wrote the screenplay around that.
It’s a strong screenplay; one of its greatest strengths is its naturalism, the sense that these are real people behaving the way real people do...
Paul works for Emmerdale, but whenever there’s an hour special or something really dramatic going on thing they always get him in because he’s one of the best writers on the show. I just wanted to get a filmic story together and pass it to him and say ‘You don’t have to worry about the structure at all, you just put your brilliant dialogue around this and make it sound realistic and like real people’. Paul really took his time on the characters even before he’d written it all down and once he’d written it, he went back to the beginning and rewrote it and kept doing that until he had three distinct voices – Bex, Dawn and Jeremy, the debt guy - that were absolutely different from each other. The plan with Bex and Dawn was that they were like chalk and cheese in that Dawn allows Bex to be gregarious and loud and doesn’t judge her in the same way that Bex allows Dawn to be mild and to get on with things; they kind of support each other and allow each other to be themselves.
Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger) is a fascinating bad guy because at first we like him and trust him and then it all gets turned on its head. It must have been a tough role to cast...
We were looking at a book called ‘Without Conscience’ (Robert D Hare, 1999) and the more you look at sociopaths, the more you realise that they actually yearn for a normal steady life or to put that across and then manipulate people in order to get it. His wife is very much a trophy wife who he doesn’t really like; he’s got this facade of normality but actually it’s all about getting more of what he thinks is his ‘normal’ and it’s his rationale. He loves his work. Being a loan shark is the absolute perfect job for a sociopath. We had a psychiatrist with us on set working on the script and working with Jonathan so that he could get it just right. Jonathan had been at the Royal Shakespeare Company for ten years and I’d seen him play all the main parts and the main baddies in Macbeth, Hamlet, and Richard III. What we really wanted to avoid was the clichéd two-a-penny gangster which can turn any film into absolute rubbish purely because they’ve cast the baddie wrong. If we’d got some very stereotypical gangster who had a constant ‘front’ on him and was just threatening, it would have been a disaster and to my mind the only person who could actually do that was Jonathan because he can turn on a coin and I knew that he wouldn’t play it like this archetypal gangster. He didn’t do any of that, he steered away from every single cliché and I knew he’d do it right. When he said he’d do it, everything fell into place because we knew we didn’t have to worry about anything.
Bex and Dawn are tough characters too – and they have to do tough things. How did Joanne and Victoria rise to the challenge of some pretty strong material?
Jo and Vicky went to Drama School together and they’re very good friends so we didn’t have to rehearse that friendship or pull that out from somewhere. They’d been filming for a week and were already solid together before Jonathan turned up and threw all the spanners in the works. Jo loves all the violent stuff anyway and Vic has already done grand stuff like Dracula and Once Upon A Time, and they both agreed that Jonathan had to get his comeuppance, so they weren’t bothered about that side of things. It was more important that, as bad as Jonathan could be, we had to indulge that because he had to deserve his fate otherwise it’s a bit like ‘Oh, what did they do that for?’
And ‘that’ is pretty intense when the girls turn the tables in a climax which – without giving too much away – is violence on virtually an operatic scale.
Well the bad guy has to get his comeuppance, there have to be consequences for his actions and I suppose that even earlier on, where he’s attacking Bex by the river, it was really uncomfortable but you’re still thinking ‘well, they have to get their own back on him but not just because they don’t like him or they owe him money’ – it has to be more than that. Eventually, you have to give the audience what they’ve been waiting for. You’ve been entertaining them and turning the screw; there’s tragedy, comedy, the whole thrill ride with the threat rising in scale and then you hit them with what they’ve paid their money to see, which is a huge fight and them struggling for a revenge which is what they feel they have to reap.
How did the experience of directing Bait differ from Before Dawn?
We had more preparation time and I think because we were working with a lot more of other people’s money – Metrodome paid for it – it meant we could make it more professional. I was talking to our cinematographer about it being unashamedly commercial which was correct whereas Before Dawn was unashamedly uncommercial; it was just throwing cameras around the room, getting as much coverage as we could and just trying to make sure that we captured everything ‘in the raw’. With this one, we planned all the shots, planned all the lights, we had more time, money, and people. The difference was that we had ten people involved on Before Dawn and seventy-three on Bait. The filming schedule was about twenty-four days altogether with little gaps in between. In theory, it was supposed to be a bit easier and with a bit more space but because of the sheer amount of locations and jumping about it was just as manic really. It was just a bit scarier, we had to make sure that we didn’t let Metrodome down. We were like a travelling band, it was ridiculous. There was so much equipment to be dragged around with big lorries and trucks everywhere and vans dragging around all the props, the actors being ferried left, right, and centre and all the costumes. I’d say it was more fraught and yet it was also more relaxed in that you felt like there was departments you could rely on, but at the same time the pressure was on to deliver something that was better, as well, because I want to make other films! It feels like it’s a step up the ladder.
Speaking of other films – what’s next in the pipeline?
There’s a couple of things in development and I’m hoping to find out next month about something which I’m hoping might be done in Puerto Rico, something on the horizon which I won’t have to produce, it’ll be just as director which will be amazing because I don’t want to have to produce any more - I’ve had enough of producing. The next one will be a full-on proper jumpy, gory horror film.
BAIT screens at FILM 4 FRIGHTFEST on Saturday August 29th and will enjoy a limited UK cinema release on September 4th and will be available on DVD on September 7th.