To Fire You Come At Last had its European première on Sat 26th Aug at FrightFest
In 17th-century England, a body must be carried along the lichway across the moor to a church yard for burial. Still grieving the death of his 21-year-old son Aldis (Stephen Smith), Squire Marlow (Mark Carlisle) has hired four men to bear the coffin to its final resting place, but when one fails to show up, Marlow himself joins the other three porters of the dead: his loyal henchman Pike (Richard Rowden), Aldis’ childhood friend Holt (Harry Roebuck), and ‘miserable wretch’ Ransley (James Swanton). Forced to keep going in the darkness, and temporarily equalised, for all their obvious differences in class, by the task at hand, these four men turn their conversation both to their surperstitious fears and to various stories about the deceased party, and so words and situation gradually become superimposed – in one scene literally – as dead men do tell tales and the pitch black moor becomes the locus of mythic, infernal retribution.
At a little under 45 minutes, To Fire You Come At Last only just meets the criteria for feature length required by AMPAS, AFI and BFI, while not those by SAG – and so, like writer/director Sean Hogan’s previous The Devil’s Business (2011), it is short – indeed, quite a bit shorter – and to the point, tasking men with grim work and exposing them to their own sinfulness via uncanny incursions of the otherworldly. Presented in harsh monochrome that becomes only starker as the sun goes down and the full moon disappears behind the clouds, this film confronts its morally grey wayfarers with black-and-white judgments, before the fire promised by the title ultimately lights up the screen in blazing orange. Here the final journey is presented in near total darkness, as initial dusk-lit exterior locations give way to more abstract, even Beckettian, realms, where the firebrand-clutching characters are overwhelmed by the blackness beyond, and whatever awaits them out there.
Headed with a quote from Christopher Marlowe (no relation to the film’s father and late son) about misery loving company, To Fire You Come At Last is certainly a wordy affair, as these night travellers’ discourse reveals their secrets and guilt – like a macabre retelling of The Canterbury Tales, with pallbearers for pilgrims. The film harks back not just to the times of early modern Britain, and to a Wheatley-esque field in England where all manner of psychedelic folk horror will unfold, but also to the Hammer heyday of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, and especially to a run of ghost stories made for British television, when horror came with crisp accents, gothic period details, and a theatrical acting style whose stuffiness was close to hamminess. Yet for all the coffin bearers’ posturing and wheedling and protestations of innocence, there is more than one lost soul in this ghostly revenger’s tragedy being sent off to the hell that they deserve.
strap: Sean Hogan’s pall-bearing period piece sees four men hellishly haunted by the wages of their own sin
© Anton Bitel