This opens with The Flying Lizards’ bizarro cover version of ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and a traipse around a Northern market where Bex (Victoria Smurfit) and Dawn (Joanne Mitchell), friends since school, are struggling with their tea-and-cake stall while failing to secure a bank loan so they can open their own shop. In vignettes, we see bald thug Si (Adam Fogerty) assaulting various randoms who owe money and plausible loan shark Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger) hooking another prospect … and realise that there’s bound to be a collision sooner or later. Director Dominic Brunt made a decent debut with Before Dawn, a small-scale zombie film, but gets more distinctive material here – the script is by Paul Roundell, who worked with Brunt and producer/actress Mitchell on rural soap Emmerfale – and turns in a pointed black comic horror tale rooted in economic desperation and everyday oppression. Bex, a mouthy Irish woman always fending off leches, and Dawn, quieter and more focused, are an interesting team – Smurfit, who’s been around film and TV for a while (in everything from Bulletproof Monk to Trial & Retribution), is usally cast as posher, blander types and scores a career-best role here as a middle-aged dolly bird at the end of her patience, an Irish Louise to Mitchell’s midlands Thelma.
Smiling, funny-looking Jeremy – who seems mild-mannered and unthreatening to a fault – shows up at the stall and asks Dawn out, keeping from her the fact that he’s married. Representing himself as a venture capitalist, Jeremy offers to put money into the women’s business and drops a wad of notes on a table – when they find out about the interest rate, they return his £10,000 but he insists that fees still need to be paid on it, and Si is there to enforce his ruling. When they refuse, the stall is vandalised and Bex’ boyfriend gets beaten up – and threats are made against Dawn’s Mum (Rula Lenska) and autistic son (Zacahry Moore). Of course, Jeremy also insists on sexual favours and it comes out that this meek-looking little creep is actually the terror of the whole community … and takes this particular case personally, setting out to wreck the women’s lives on a whim, and prompting increasingly desperate (and violent) resistance. There’s a simple shift as we realise that thug Si is just doing a job, but Jeremy is a near-demonic force – Slinger’s genial wheedling gives way to steely-eyed mania when he cuts loose, and the comic patter gets funnier even as it turns nasty. By the grand guignol finale, which involves gouts of effects gore and Smurfit in her underwear, the Full Monty-style Northern struggling-underclass comedy-drama tone has mutated into full-on exploitation.
A post-credits sequence by claymation splatter specialist Lee Hardcastle takes things even further. Filmed as The Taking – the retitling is odd since the Australian Bait, which features a shark rather than a loan shark, came out only a few years ago. In addition to its virtues as a finger-on-the-pulse economic horror story,it’s likely to open up new mid-career prospects for Smurfit and Slinger.