Thursday 9 December 2021

Dark Horror Short Review: Last Orders

Dark Horror Short Review: Last Orders

Review by Casey Douglass

Last Orders

I’ve never been in a pub or a bar when last orders have been called. It’s funny to me that I only realise this as I am drafting this review of a horror short called Last Orders. It’s barely seven in the morning and I already know myself a tiny bit better! Last Orders is set in a pub, and, well, I’m sure you can guess the timing of events too.

Chapter One: “The End” appears on screen. The camera lurks at an empty doorway. There is the flash and the bang of a gun going off. We don’t get to see what happened, just an empty kitchen. In the next chapter, a pub landlord is stacking upended chairs onto tables, eyeing the darkly-dressed stranger who is sitting quietly at the bar. We see a figure sitting outside in a car. The figure pulls out a gun. The landlord tells the man at the bar that it’s time to call it a night, and is then surprised when the stranger informs him that they’ve met before. As he does so, the music playing in the background scratches to a halt, and the landlord looks suddenly chilled to the bone. It turns out that he has a dark past, one that just might be catching up with him. At this point, the viewer has some information to begin their speculations about who is going to be shot, and who is going to do the shooting.

Last Orders

Last Orders reveals what actually happened by way of six chapters, each filling in a little more of the detail as to what is going on and who might be involved. It’s a fun way for the story to unfold, and it makes use of dream-like images and other flashbacks to fill in the more historical doings. For the most part though, it features some lovely prolonged and creepy scenes, where strange noises see the landlord wandering through the darkened pub, flash-light in hand, trying to find out if he is actually alone.

What the film does so well is to make great use of the location. Director Jon James Smith says that Last Orders was made during UK Covid lockdown, with hardly any money, but access to an old pub that couldn’t open due to the lockdown. Even though we only see it lit for a short time, while the two men chat at closing time, the bowels of the pub stand in stark contrast to the cosier upper floor. Downstairs is all bare walls, circuit boxes, pipes, beer kegs and harsh echoes. Then, when the landlord returns to the bar area once the lights are out, upstairs seems to have caught some of the menace of what lies below.

Last Orders

Of course, a stage is nothing without the actors who portray the story, and in this regard, Last Orders also delivers. The conversation between the landlord and the strange man at the bar felt like a meeting between two darknesses. One seems brawny and capable of violence, the other quiet and equally menacing. It felt like an important scene to get right, as so much of the short is set up by the questions it raises and the truths it hints at. The inflections in the quiet stranger’s voice as he says “But actually, we have met... Daniel,” followed by the look on Daniel’s face are probably my favourite moments in the film.

Another thing that stood out for me was the camera work. I enjoyed how it teased and toyed, and didn’t show all. There is one particular moment where it pulls away to one side and I was waiting to hear what happened. The silence stretches, and I realised that I had been tricked into predicting something that wasn’t actually going to happen. Last Orders is comfortable with silence and tension, two things it builds so adeptly. When there are sounds, they are suitably creepy: ominous drones, chants, squeaking floorboards and scraping metal. The sinister voice-over that narrates at certain moments is also well executed, as it not only sounds suitably threatening, but also provides hints as to the identity of the speaker over time.

Last Orders

Last Orders is 21 minutes of quiet, ominous British horror. It’s the sort of thing that seems to nestle lovingly into the darkest hours of the evening, when the mundane world is blanketed by night and the people that are still awake are left alone with their thoughts and fears. Last Orders is currently touring the film festivals so isn’t released as of yet. It picked up an Official Selection at the London Lift-Off Film Festival 2021 and I’d be surprised if that’s the last nod it gets. If you get the chance to watch it at a festival, or later when it is released, I’d say it’s well worth checking out.

I was given review access to the film.

Film Title: Last Orders

Starring: Alastair Parker (The Witcher 3, Mass Effect 3), Steven Elder (The King, Rillington Place), with Charles Edmond.

Written & Directed By: Jon James Smith

Score: Stewart Dugdale

Producer, DoP, Editor & VFX: Jon James Smith

Sound Design: Stewart Dugdale & Jon James Smith

Associate Producer: S. K. Bishop

SFX Supervisor: Eddy Popplewell

SFX Crew: Sophie Bramley

Sound Recordist: Matt Wilkinson