Difficult ‘second album’ time for Dominic “Paddy off Emmerdale” Brunt as he follows up his extraordinary directorial debut, 2012’s intimate-yet-terrifying ‘zombie’ drama Before Dawn, with a movie which, superficially, couldn’t be more different. Yet dig a little deeper – watch out for zombies! – and you’ll find that Before Dawn and Bait have much more in common than might be initially apparent. Both films feature two people battling against a formidable, implacable and impossibly-hostile adversary; Before Dawn’s zombies are replaced here with monsters which are much more shocking, much more threatening and, ultimately, much more real. Welcome to the murky, grimy, bloody underworld of ruthless debt collectors – and a story of what two desperate woman are driven to when they’re pushed too far.
Both films establish that one of the signatures of Dominic Brunt movies is a desire to set up extraordinary situations populated by believable, realistic people speaking and behaving the way real people do. Paul Roundell’s tight script deftly establishes the flighty Bex (Victoria Smurfitt) and the more restrained Dawn (Joanne Mitchell) in bold strokes and with snappy, naturalistic dialogue and character quirks which instantly endear them to the audience. Desperate to better themselves, the girls allow the oily, plausible Jeremy into their lives and it’s only when he offers to loan them the balance of the cash they need to set up their own little cafe that they realise he’s actually a loan shark with a neat line in astronomical interest rates for his customers. The girls try to back out of the deal but it’s too late; Jeremy imposes an ‘arrangement fee’ which is itself more than the amount he’s loaned them. The girls are soon up to their necks in debt and trouble – and Jeremy and his silent heavy Sy won’t take no for an answer as they impose their own enforcement rules on their hapless victims.
Bait can be a difficult film to watch. Sequences of pensioners being brutalised are disturbing and upsetting albeit necessary to establish just how appalling these creatures really are. When Jeremy is finally revealed in his true colours, the violence escalates to a degree and a scale which come pretty close to Grand Guignol as Dawn and Bex finally decide to fight back after being humiliated and brutalised and the results are extraordinary touching on the surreal.
Bait might not have quite the same impact as its predecessor (which might well be just because Before Dawn came right out of left field, unexpected and without fanfare) but it’s a haunting and memorable movie in its own right and it will stay with you long after it’s finished. The second half seems a little frenetic and episodic where we might have wanted to spend a bit more quality time with Bex, Dawn and Co. but once the situation is set up there’s no time to waste in small talk and as we reach the climax the tension is pretty near unbearable. Bait (retitled from the original The Taking) is a worthy, possibly more challenging piece than Before Dawn and it cements Dominic Brunt’s growing confidence as an ambitious film-maker with the ability to tell strong stories with power, grace and economy.
BAIT / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: DOMINIC BRUNT / SCREENPLAY: PAUL ROUNDELL / STARRING: VICTORIA SMURFITT, JOANNE MITCHELL, JONATHAN SLINGER, RULA LENSKA / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 7TH