A few years back, an Australian horror movie called Bait pitched a group of plucky survivors against a tide of hungry sharks, displaced in a flooded supermarket after a devastating tsunami. It wasn’t exactly life-changing; the computer-generated fish looked a bit rubbish, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of tension or carnage and the characters were more than slightly one-dimensional.
Bait 2012 is better than Bait 2015.
This Bait, the 2015 Bait, as given to us by Emmerdale star turned horror director Dominic Brunt (Before Dawn), is so terrible it makes a movie about sharks swimming around a supermarket look halfway decent in comparison. The plot, if you can call it that, follows down-on-their-luck, middle-aged lady friends Dawn (Joanne Mitchell) and Bex (Victoria Smurfit), who run a market stall cafe in some godforsaken corner of Northern England.
You know the town; constantly grey, like it’s always threatening to rain but never quite does, everyone looks a bit suicidal, the kind of place where people get hit with hammers in broad daylight (or broad grey-light, rather) and nobody bats an eyelid. Running the show in Miserytown is the supposedly suave Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger). We know he’s a decent sort because he wears a suit and assists helpless ladies such as our heroines, who find themselves in dire financial straits when the bank won’t give them a loan.
Brunt thinks he’s pulling off a clever misdirect by having the women not buy into Jeremy’s bullshit right off the bat. But, whether he succeeds or not doesn’t matter because they end up paying for a loan they didn’t take in the first place, anyway. Otherwise there would be no movie.
Bait is primarily concerned with showing us men beating the absolute living shit out of women. Particularly towards the end, but much of the film is dedicated to sustained, bloody violence against females, all of which is shot by the slow, steady, voyeuristic male gaze. That final act, which sees the women fighting back against Jeremy in a very literal sense, has the two of them clad in only lingerie while he gets to keep his suit and, for a long while, his coat on. The underlying message is clear.
In more capable hands, this film could’ve been some kind of feminist call to arms (maybe), an exploitation movie with real bite. But Bait is so relentlessly, gleefully misogynistic that it is, at times, difficult to stomach (something I’m sure Brunt will take as a badge of honour). The most curious aspect is why Mitchell and Smurfit, two capable actresses who don’t appear to be short of work, even agreed to the project in the first place.
Smurfit’s character is an Irish broad with her cleavage permanently on show and a serious potty mouth. The joke is, quite literally, that she’s Irish and she swears a lot. It wears thin after about five minutes. She’s gifted a kind of story-line with a boyfriend who ends up as collateral damage, but it’s introduced and dismissed within the one scene, as though it was an afterthought: “Oh, we need to give her some depth, or else she’s just a floozy!”
Mitchell fares even less well. Gifted an autistic son, who is written so offensively it’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so upsetting, as a kind of emotional arc, she’s forced to play the loser role, constantly begging to be taken seriously by everyone around her. When the movie opens, she’s crying on a bathroom floor, covered in blood. And yet, it’s difficult to root for her because she’s written so one-note.
As for Jeremy, he might have been taken seriously as a bad guy on Eastenders, but here he’s completely over the top, not believable for a second. We know he’s a baddie because he kills an old man’s dog, and he has a heavy permanently standing behind him who looks a bit like Stone Cold Steve Austin. His performance is pitched about ten octaves higher than everyone else. How anyone could believe he’s a do-gooder, even for a moment, is laughable.
It’s obvious Brunt envisioned Bait as a grim, grimy, kitchen sink Brit shocker à la the work of the great Ben Wheatley, kind of a Kill List without the occultism. Unfortunately, he has neither the vision nor the talent to communicate even a premise as nuts-and-bolts as this one, and the whole thing is a slog to get through–boring in spite of the bloodshed.
Mitchell and Smurfit are soap opera actresses themselves, so there may be a sense of doing it for one of their own here (add to this the fact Mitchell is married to the film’s director, and they own a production company together). Even so, the script is lazy, the action and gore perfunctory and there is not one moment where Bait is anything less than utterly predictable.
The bizarrely optimistic denouement is offset by a post-credits, claymation sequence (courtesy of Lee Hardcastle, who was responsible for the awesome “T is for Toilet” segment in The ABCs Of Death) that is more inventive and more involving than the film that’s come before. It’s actually kind of sad, in a way, because it demonstrates some kind of understanding.
For UK fans, Bait plays a bit like a particularly rough episode of Brookside (ask your parents), or maybe even Hollyoaks Later at a push. For those of you across the pond, prepare to be flummoxed by the idea that anything in this movie is supposed to pull you in or make you care. The gore is impressive enough at times, but that’s about it. There’s nothing else beneath the surface.
Unless you enjoy lowest common denominator exploitation, as opposed to the shocking, thought-provoking, interesting variety, avoid Bait at all costs.
WICKED RATING: (2/10)
Director(s): Dominic Brunt
Writer(s): Paul Roundell
Stars: Victoria Smurfit, Joanne Mitchell, Adam Fogarty, Jonathan Slinger
Studio/ Production Co: Mitchell-Brunt Films
Length: 82 minutes
Sub-Genre: Revenge, exploitation