On the eve of her 30th birthday, a London night bus driver discovers a supernatural entity on her bus.
The first thing that strikes the viewer when watching this comedy horror is how much fun directors Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth (via a great turn from lead actor Susan Wokoma) decide to have with the genre and the premise. Pairing the supernatural shenanigans with the impending 30th birthday of protagonist Natasha (Wokoma) gives us a protagonist that is already on edge, manifesting in an ironically cantankerous mood directed at just about everyone that wishes her happy birthday.
Not long after starting her shift on the titular night bus, we are gradually introduced to the arrival of the tormenting demon. As a filmmaking team, this is where the crew shows their smarts, expertly ratcheting up tension by way of excellent pacing and the construction of moments where Natasha is wondering if she saw what she just saw. Slowly building up to moments of revelation only to be suddenly distracted by the familiar and the mundane, before slowly starting the reveal again proves to be a highly effective way of keeping the audience on edge. It is also worth noting that much of the heavy lifting of the tension-building is done before the unsettling score from Joseph Ashworth and Connor Freeman kicks in, ratcheting things up to a new level.
One of the most refreshing elements of this horror experience is the protagonist herself. Wokoma fully gives herself over to the premise of the story while retaining an “I don’t have time for this foolishness” energy. As a result, we get that rare kind of protagonist that makes the kinds of decisions the rest of us would make. Wokoma’s “Nah mate” moment is one for the ages. Carefully balancing her performance between frustration, resignation, tension and outright terror, Susan Wokoma makes a perfect window and anchor into this world.
Jade Alexander’s script keeps the proceedings simple but never unambitious. Setting the whole film on a bus surely makes for logistical music to a producer’s ears, but also serves the story in terms of creating an enclosed environment that our protagonist cannot escape, ultimately forcing her to face down the story’s big threat. Alexander also does well to establish and pay off the story’s thematic threads, weaving Natasha’s fear of becoming old and helpless into her decision-making as a character once the supernatural threat reveals itself. It also has the advantage of being insanely quotable, throwing out gems such as “Who has crack on a Sunday?” and “If you want to get off, just scream.”
In as much as Night Bus has a grand old time with the familiar beats of the horror genre and the mother of all relatable characters in Natasha layering credible comedy into the unnerving proceedings; there is also an underlying message that encourages a rejection of victimhood without dismissing the challenges or trauma that the protagonist has to face. There is some shared DNA with Ruth Greenberg’s Run (also produced by this film’s producer Helen Gladders of Gingerbread Productions) in that the protagonists of both stories are forced to take control of situations that are seemingly beyond them. While the two films are very different experiences, they ultimately present us with female leads who face threats head on, dealing with situations not of their making and demonstrating their innate strength and resilience in the process.
This short film is a well-crafted, perfectly paced and very brilliantly performed healthy dose of fun. Whether you are here for the horror or the comedy, Night Bus will definitely get you to your destination.
Studio: Gingerbread Pictures/Pia Pressure | Year: 2020 | Genre: Horror/Comedy | Duration: 121 Mins | Suitability: Mature
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