They say don't sleep with dogs in case you catch fleas. If only someone had reminded Dawn (played by Joanne Mitchell). Dawn and Bex ( played by Victoria Smurfit) run a small cafe situated in an indoor market, in-between fighting of the unwanted comments and lecherous advances of the male market stall owners, they dream of owning their own proper bricks and mortar coffee shop.
It is a pity that they only have half of the capital required to see their dreams come true. The banks won't lend them the money, and with each passing interview with a bank manager their dreams of owning their own shop drift ever further away.
Enter Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger), a charming local business man who takes a shine to Dawn, and after a bedroom dalliance he offers to put up the remaining capital. Dawn is obviously over the moon about this and when she tells Bex, they agree to meet Jeremy and see their dreams come true. Jeremy's terms and conditions however are rather extreme and it is not long until Bex, true to her nature sends Jeremy on his way with more than just a flea in his ear, but not before he leaves them a little parting gift of "pay me £10,000 in administration fees or face the consequences". It's not long before Dawn and Bex realise that he means business and their world descends into an ever decreasing circle of hell.
Bait is a hard film to watch, but whose rewards are more than worth it. The rather gentle opening act where we are introduced to the three main characters is filled with witty conversation, mainly from the gobby potty mouthed Bex. It is when the film takes a left turn in nasty country that it becomes really hard to watch, yet it remains exhaustively compelling, hypnotic and brutally brilliant throughout. Be prepared, without giving to much away, when Jeremy sheds his veneer of jovial business man to reveal the nasty loan shark underneath it gets really uncomfortable to watch. The physical and mental torment that he inflicts on Dawn and Bex is unrelenting. It is only matched by the sheer animalistic vengeance that they return back on Jeremy when their desperation finally sees them snap and fight back.
The biggest problem facing films like this is that they run the risking of becoming cheap and nasty films that make the viewer feel like a dirty voyeur getting their kicks from seeing two women getting beaten to within an inch of their lives. It's line that the film never crosses, it sails close to the line, but the script, direction and the powerful performances from all concerned prevents the viewer from feeling this way. You will become totally engrossed on the film, and you will feel extreme revulsion and terror at what befalls all three of them.
While some of the scenes may seem over the top the chilling reality that many of these are based on actual events and accounts of those who have fallen victim to the hands of a loan shark makes for a disturbing film.
Dominic Brunt's direction is strong, sympathetic to the characters and somehow manages to make the inclusion of some dark humour feel totally natural. In particular there is a scene where Dawn and Jeremy go for a rather unpleasant trip to the countryside, midway through the violence there is a small humour break. It is a laugh out load moment and despite the wholeheartedly sense of inappropriateness it manages to come across as feel completely natural. The use of dark humour throughout the film is one of its many strong points and one of the reasons that it never crosses that invisible line.
As the main story unfolds the narrative is broken up by glimpses into Jeremy's world. Initially he is portrayed as a friendly businessman all friendly smiles and pleasant platitudes. Which soon changes when he comes to collect. These scenes are in many ways more disturbing than the main narrative thread, due to the fact that we know Bez and Dawn are going to find the strength to fight back. These victims are helpless, powerless to stand up to him. It also helps to give our heroines an almost superhero like quality. We know they are the only hope these people have at redemption.
This is essentially a film about four characters, well three characters and one inspired use of a cipher. Dawn, Bex and Jeremy are all fully formed well developed characters who all adapt and develop as the film unfolds. It is Jeremy's right hand muscle man that is the inspired use of a cipher. Rather than being a fully fleshed out character he is used more as a unrelenting silent force of nature. In many ways he is like the unstoppable bogeyman in so many horror films. It's only at the epilogue that we get a glimpse at the man behind the mask.
The true power of this film comes from the three leads, Smurfit, Mitchell and Slinger, all three of them give flawless performances, from Smurfit's cocky assured woman, to Mitchell's transformation from timid wallflower to avenging angel, and Slinger's career defining performance as silver tongued monster are all played to perfection.
Bex is a foul mouthed no nonsense outwardly hard as nails woman who likes to give as good as she gets. The banter between her and the lecherous male members of the market is played out perfectly. Despite her outwardly aggressive nature we get glimpses behind the curtain at her softness and insecurity. It is her gobby no nonsense nature that gives her the strength to finally fight back. Smurfit's performance is spectacular, she loud and proud and is clearly relishing getting to play such a wonderful character.
Compared to Bex, Dawn is a polar opposite, she is almost shy and retiring when compared to her best friend, you can tell that she is still suffering, still demur and filled with anxiety thanks to the actions of her bitter ex mother in law. Mitchell's performance is the perfect counterfoil to Smurfit. Mitchell brings a real heart to Dawn, a sublime and wonderfully understated performance, that begs you to care about her.
And now we come to Slinger's performance as Jeremy, which as previously stated will in my opinion be cited as a career defining performance. From the seemingly nice man to the monster that he really is, for this to work you have to fully believe that he could be capable of doing this. Now Slinger isn't a big man, but when he unleashes his anger he takes over the whole screen with a presence that dwarfs everyone else on the screen. Even in his quiet moments at home with his family, you are watching the screen just waiting for him to let loose, such is the power of his performance.
Be warned this is a violent film, and a film that will disturb you, but it is one of the most spellbinding films to come your way this year. When so much of Hollywood's horror output is poor, it is so reassuring to know that indie horror is producing such great and films. Bait is horror in its most brutal and purest of forms.
Bex and Dawn are trapped. They dream of taking control of their lives and owning their own upmarket cafe, but no one will give people them the opportunity. However one day they meet Jeremy, who offers them the money to fund their dream. Not long after it is handed over, does he begin tormenting the girls, bombarding them with unreasonable demands and cruel abuse. Unable to stand his aggression any longer, Bex and Dawn must find a way to turn the tables on their viciously calculated aggressor.
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