[Beyond Fest Short Film 2023 Review] TO FIRE YOU COME AT LAST

Folk horror has had a resurgence in recent years, and TO FIRE YOU COME AT LAST is prime folk horror. It is a film that is concerned with the British custom of the coffin walk, which came out of expediency. When a person died in an area where there wasn’t a church nearby, the relatives would have to carry the coffin on specially-made paths or corpse or coffin roads. Some roads were only a few miles, but others were much longer, and the reason for carrying the coffin to a graveyard and not burying them near the home was that they would then lay in consecrated ground. Consecrated ground is considered sacred and, thus, the only proper and safe place to bury a loved one.

TO FIRE YOU COME AT LAST is a short film directed by Sean Hogan, which is a bit on the longer spectrum of shorts at 43 minutes. It stars Mark Carlisle as Squire Marlow, Harry Roebuck as Holt, Richard Rowden as Pike, James Swanton as Ransley, and Stephen Smith as Aldis Marlow. The film is produced by Evrim Ersoy, Kier-La Janisse, David Gregory, and Carl Daft.

The film features a small but mighty ensemble in which all of the actors carry the narrative with their bickering and their resentments. Their work is rock solid and believable for characters that are supposed to be living in 17th-century England, and they effortlessly voice the words and phrases of the script, which was written by Hogan and written very well indeed.

The character of Pike serves as the initiating force after being brought to the coffin by Ransley to help carry the young and beloved son of Squire Marlow, Aldis, to the nearest graveyard. He insinuates the truths that people are hiding while they walk. Unfortunately, since it took so long to find another pair of hands, Squire Marlow and Holt, along with Ransley and Pike, have to carry the coffin after dark. No one is happy about this, and frequent mentions are made of the local rumors and superstitions about the road. Small touches like the reason for the belief that coffins must be carried feet first are part of the discussion.

After the sun sets, things really start to turn scary.

Because the film is set in the 17th century, there are no cell phones and no real light out in the mournful countryside. The film was shot in Shropshire on a sheep farm, so all of that darkness comes from the setting. The film is in black and white and has two cinematographers, Paul Goodwin and Jim Hinson, who make the whites look like carved marble and the darkness of the night look like a tangible thing.

Another great thing about the film is the score by Timothy Fife and Renato Montenegro. It is used to wonderful effect and is not only haunting, but it lingers in the mind as a great main theme of a film should.

The best thing about TO FIRE YOU COME AT LAST is that Hogan has made this story vital and compelling rather than a dusty period piece. There’s a vitality to it that makes it seem like it could be happening now, but obviously, it is filled with 17th-century characters. Everything about the period is correct, but the storytelling and direction are vital. Hogan said that it is patterned on the BBC series of shorts A Ghost Story for Christmas because the British love a good ghost story during the holidays.

TO FIRE YOU COME AT LAST is a chilling and very British folk horror that is a pure ghost story of the kind that we don’t often get anymore. There’s no CGI; all effects are practical, so the horrors look real. It uses the fears about death that we all still have to great advantage in this time when we are separated from funerary rites.

TO FIRE YOU COME AT LAST played as a part of the 2023 Beyond Fest Film Festival.

 

Dolores Quintana
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