SUNDAY BEST is the latest short film from North East England-based director Clive Tonge. It follows 2005’s EMILY AND THE BABA YAGA and the 2006 comedy LOVE LESSON.
Here, the filmmaker enters dark terrain with a short, sharp shocker of considerable atmosphere and style.
It opens with a female radio newsreader informing listeners that a woman’s thighbone has been found just outside the town of Sedgefield. The police, we’re told, believe it to be the handiwork of killer-at-large "The Bone Stripper".
Not too far away from this gruesome discovery, hooded Kane (Andrew Squires) ambles down a country lane covered in another person’s blood. Travel bag in hand, he finds a remote house surrounded by secluding forage and knocks at the door.
Elderly, scruffy Albert (Bill Fellows) answers. He peers cautiously through a narrow gap in the door as Kane explains he’s been in an accident and needs to use a telephone. Albert calls to his wife Gladys (Valerie Shields) to confirm it’s acceptable to let the young man in. Upon her approval, he welcomes Kane into their home.
Albert and the somewhat incapacitated Gladys are indeed a friendly old couple. They invite Kane to stay for dinner, and point him in the right direction when he expresses a desire to freshen up before eating.
We follow Kane to the upstairs bathroom, where he opens his bag to produce a sharp suit and a certain piece of mean-looking weaponry. Cleaning the blood from his face and disposing of his soiled vest, he spruces himself up then gives us a steely glare through the bathroom mirror.
Kane then descends the stairs with a sinister intent in his eyes.
What happens next? Ah, you’re going to have to see for yourselves...
SUNDAY BEST is but 6 minutes long. But it packs more style, ambience and jumps into that running time that most of the feature films I’ve reviewed for this site in the last year.
What strikes first is the film’s very Britishness. A quirkiness to the characters married with regional accents lends events the charm of, say, an episode of ‘Hammer House of Horror’ while the mood, religious perversions and unsettlingly casual approach to nightmarish scenarios recalled the best works of Pete Walker (in particular, FRIGHTMARE).
Tightly edited and extremely well shot in HD by Ben Race, SUNDAY BEST makes fine use of its North East locales too, further adding a distinctive British feel to it. Even the twisting unfurling of the simple but effective set-up (co-written by Tonge and Ian Fenton) feels home-grown in its debt to the likes of the aforementioned ‘HHoH’ and ‘Tales of the Unexpected’.
Performances are solid and underpinned with very subtle, dark humour. In a way, this gives the gory and violent finale an even greater impact. On your way to the blood-soaked climax, you can expect a brooding build-up that provides genuine jolts from the opening seconds onwards.
Overall, SUNDAY BEST is an excellent short film that could’ve benefited from being longer, but feels taut and relevant at its current length. Every single frame, every shot, has clearly been considered to the nth degree – from Arash Atman’s sound design to the quick edits of bathroom taps running and kettles being filled – suggesting that this was a real labour of love for the obviously talented Tonge.
It really is amazing what has been achieved on a budget of £500.
SUNDAY BEST recently played to a successful response at a one-night short horror film fest in Stockton-on-Tees (let’s hope the ARC does more of these nights). Here’s hoping it makes the shortlist for more festivals, as it’s sure to embed itself as a film by people we should keep a close eye on in the future.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Directed by Clive Tonge|