You may recall Bait as the title of enjoyably daft “sharks in a supermarket” film from 2012. The loan sharks at the centre of its namesake, Dominic Brunt’s sophomore feature, are no less dangerous.
Emmerdale actor Brunt, who stunned (modestly-sized) genre audiences two years ago with his debut feature Before Dawn, is back – with a vengeance. In a depressed Northern town where loan sharks are the only viable source of funding for cash-strapped entrepreneurs, market stall holders Bex (Victoria Smurfit) and Dawn (Joanne Mitchell, Blunt’s real-life wife and the film’s producer) fall prey to the last resort to finance their achingly modest dream of a tea and cake shop. After an arresting opener which gives an unpleasant taste of things to come, we spend the next thirty minutes in the company of Bex, Dawn and various assorted locals, before the plot kicks in – in the manner of someone kicking in your front door.
Based on a script by former Emmerdale writer Paul Roundell, Bait is a gripping, brutal British horror that could easily have been missold as one of those “gritty” crime films that Danny Dyer and/or Terry Stone, but both Roundell and Brunt have an instinctive understanding of the horror genre (in this respect, it recalls Ben Wheatley’s debut, Down Terrace). Smurfit and Mitchell are outstanding as the two friends, while Jonathan Slinger excels in a part best left undescribed for fear of spoiling the ‘fun’. Like any film in which women are brutalised, it’s not an easy watch, and it could be argued that one or two of the violent scenes are misjudged. But beneath the surface, it also serves as a sly, horribly relevant indictment of the realities of loan sharking, and perhaps even the wider world of financial elites and the ordinary folk whose lives and livelihoods hang on their whims. (If that all sounds a bit too hardcore, stay after the end credits for a treat from claymation king Lee Hardcastle.)
Emmerdale has produced a few horrors over the years – the plane crash, the storm, the bus crash, the Kings River explosion, Sarah Sugden’s death in a barn fire – but no one could have seen this coming, especially from the man behind the hapless Paddy Kirk. On this evidence, Brunt could soon be giving Ben Wheatley a run for his money.