A struggling cafe owner is intrigued when a mysterious, elderly stranger takes an interest in her life.
Director Paul Holbrook reteams with actor Laura Bayston for a fifth (count ‘em) successful collaboration, this time working on a script penned by Bayston herself. After the large-scale and borderline epic landscapes of A Girl and Her Gun, Hungry Joe and Hollow, Holbrook and Bayston’s latest collaboration strips back the complexity to a simple, two-character, single-location story that sets out to unravel the intentions of a mysterious elderly man who appears in a greasy spoon café owned by Bayston’s character Kerrie after closing time.
Harry, the elderly man in question, (unsettlingly played to perfection by Larry Lamb) has all the hallmarks of a dangerous figure and becomes the fulcrum on which he, Bayston and Holbrook deliver a masterclass in tension-building. Without once issuing a direct threat and only once raising his voice, Lamb simply oozes menace as he politely (if presumptuously) asks for tea and Eccles cake. With a thousand-yard stare that could cut through metal, coupled with Bayston’s visible discomfort, a back-and-forth ensues that puts the audience on high alert while wondering who Harry is and why he is there and most importantly, what he is going to do.
In a story that is largely expositional, there is much to be admired in the staging of the conversation and how emphasis is placed on who controls the conversation more so than its actual content. This is where Bayston and Lamb shine, adding nuance and pointed tone to clearly show who is on the backfoot, who has been caught off-guard, who is vulnerable and who is sincere. As the stories of these two characters are slowly revealed we see each one go through their own personal and internal reckoning in ways that embrace subtlety without sacrificing impact.
Additional layers are added to the film by setting it in the early 90s. In a time where society is hurtling towards a new millennium, the theme of lamenting the past while considering the future seems that much more poignant. The setting proves to be even more of a masterstroke as it immediately puts the audience into a state of nostalgia, flashing images such as the 1990 World Cup England squad and an era-appropriate West Ham strip among others, using references not just to signify the time but to remind the audience of things that were important to them at the time, surreptitiously putting us in the same emotional space as the characters that we are about to meet.
As with just about every short film Holbrook has helmed, this is a beautifully shot piece of work. The golden hour light, manipulated by cinematographer James Oldham is used to bathe the screen in almost sepia tones, adding to the sense of nostalgia that we are meant to share with the characters. With Oldham expertly using shadow and depth of field, not to mention some truly imposing close-ups to maximum effect, the meticulously crafted imagery ends up creating an incredibly cinematic feel for this small and intimate story.
As is becoming standard procedure at this point, Bayston and Holbrook create a collaborative experience worth every one of its 18 minutes. Despite being compact in scope, this film does not skimp on the narrative depth, effective visual storytelling or gripping performances. Paul Holbrook is, once again able to deliver a film of quality, tension and depth due in no small part to Laura Bayston’s screenplay which proves to be a fine opening salvo from Bayston’s new production company Jackalor Films.
Time will tell if Bayston and Holbrook’s latest can follow its predecessors multi award-winning film festival run, but we certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
Use the links below to get updates on this short film directly from its producers.
Studio: Jackalor Films | Year: 2021 | Genre: Drama | Duration: 18 Mins | Suitability: Mature
See more on these filmmakers