Dominic Brunt is perhaps most familiar to British viewers for having played Paddy Kirk in Yorkshire-set soap opera Emmerdale since 1998 - but recently he has been presenting a darker slice of Northern social realism, heightened by genre, from the other side of the lens. His excellent debut feature Before Dawn (2013) showed the brittle relationship of a couple (played by Brunt and his real-life spouse Joanne Mitchell) caught in zombified stasis - and his latest, Bait, shows two female friends and colleagues Dawn and Bex (Mitchell and Victoria Smurfit) falling headlong into a debt trap as they endeavour to escape a poverty trap, and finally laying a trap of their own against a vicious local extortionist.
Bait is all at once a work of coarse, earthy naturalism, and an arresting social allegory. Here we see a broken Britain dominated and drained by a self-appointed élite of financial bullies, and a working populace whose hard-earned capital seems always to drift out of their hands to the undeserving and the corrupt. We know from the opening scene (a flash forward) that our two heroines will get their eventual payback (and reward viewers with a bloody, genre-bound revenge), but at the same time the film knowingly frames this satisfaction as wish-fulfilment fantasy, culminating in a post-credits explosion of comic violence so far removed from reality that it is presented in lurid claymation (from Lee Hardcastle, who also has a cameo). It is the earlier scenes of these two women and others becoming entrapped in cruel recessionary exploitation that stick in the craw and ring far truer.
Originally called The Taking, Bait now shares its title with Kimble Rendall's homonymous 3D schlockfest of 2012, only this time it is not finned underwater monsters but a predatory loan shark (played with cynically winking menace by Jonathan Slinger) who circles the marketplace in search of big bites - and the terror which he brings is all the more effective for feeling so tangible and grounded.