I've never been hugely into horror movies. I wasn't allowed to watch many when I was a kid and have always been a bit of a wuss when it comes to really nasty violence so have many notable gaps in my horror film experience. When I met fellow Blueprint: Review writers Justin Richards and Andrew Skeates though and we began our regular movie nights (which turned into the Weekends of Trash), my eyes were opened to a host of spooky, disturbing and down right nasty delights. Since then I've grown fonder of the genre, although I still rarely rush to the cinema to see the latest frighteners and my DVD/Blu-Ray collection is sparse on the horror front too.
Up until about 2 years ago, I had a fantastic way of keeping on top of the genre's offerings; horror festivals. Each year I would try to get to at least one of them, be it Dead by Dawn in Edinburgh, Celluloid Screams in Sheffield or Justin's own festival, Phantasmagoria. These hand picked selections weren't always 100% to my tastes (horror is very subjective after all), but I discovered dozens of favourites. Unfortunately, after my daughter was born two years ago, I've struggled to find the time and money to make it to film festivals, so once again I've fallen behind the pack.
One of my last festival experiences was Celluloid Screams in 2012. A film that impressed me there was Before Dawn. Directed by Dominic Brunt, who's best known in the UK as a regular actor in the soap opera Emmerdale, the film gave the zombie genre a relationship drama spin. It wasn't perfect, but showed a lot of potential. So when I heard Brunt was releasing his follow up, Bait (a.k.a. The Taking), I was very excited. It has screened at a few festivals over the last year, but of course this didn't help me in my current predicament. Luckily Metrodome must have been taking notice as they picked the title up for a UK release and offered me a copy to review.
Bait follows two friends, Bex (Victoria Smurfit) and Dawn (Joanne Mitchell), as they try to find finance to set up their own high end coffee shop. Whilst running a basic cafe stall in the market, they come across a seemingly charming man called Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger). After briefly dating Dawn, he approaches the two women with a loan proposition to help them achieve their dream. They initially jump at the chance, but quickly realise that Jeremy isn't as nice as he seems. His demands become increasingly more unfair and the threats build to startling levels of violence. So Bex and Dawn either need to pay up or fight back against this monster and his frighteningly large associate Si (Adam Fogerty).
Bait is a tense, no nonsense thriller that once again shows that Brunt has much more to give audiences than just his soap opera persona. However, like Before Dawn it isn't perfect. My issues were almost the opposite to what they were with the earlier film though. In Before Dawn I thought the generic horror/action beats let down the more impressive dramatic sequences, whereas in Bait I felt it worked better as a thriller than anything else.
There's some brutal violence in the film which is sensibly used in short bursts for the most part, focussing on Si for the first half before Jeremy's true nature is exposed. After this point the violence gets steadily stronger, building to a spectacularly gory finale. It gets a bit over the top perhaps, but in doing so it delivers the genre goods horror fans will be waiting for after the teases during the lead up.
Performance-wise the two female leads are solid and Slinger makes a slimily nasty villain, pulling off the charming persona earlier on in the film too. We get to see some of Jeremy's home life on top of his swindling, which is an unusual touch. I'm undecided whether it was a good idea, as on one side it makes for a richer character, but on the other I'm not sure it was necessary in driving the core plot forward and it muddies the waters a bit. I didn't like the decision to make Dawn's son autistic either as the level of this seemed way too severe in my experience of the condition (I've worked with autistic children quite a lot) and it seemed more of a tool for sympathy than anything else. Generally the narrative is pretty tight though and little time is wasted, getting the job done in a short 82 minutes.
Brunt makes effective use of his low budget, with fairly high production values and great use of its Yorkshire locations (it's not called God's own country for nothing). The film does suffer from some typical indie flaws though. There are one or two cheap looking shots, the acting in smaller roles can be a bit ropey and the dialogue has a bit of a forced feel to it. There's some funny straight talking Northern banter in the script, but it didn't always sound natural.
On the whole it's lean, mean and to the point though. It has some conventional tropes, but manages to feel fresh due to its setting and by putting some slight spins on the formula here and there. Like Before Dawn, it may not always hit its mark, but there's a passion and respect for the genre which most lazy straight to DVD horror films lack. There's not a huge amount of depth or complexity to it, but it's got the threat, violence and gore required to sell its idea and deliver the goods.
* On a side note, make sure you stay through the credits as there's a special treat in store at the end.
Bait is out now on DVD in the UK, released by Metrodome. I got sent a watermarked screener so can't comment on the picture or sound quality.