"There is so much that I want to share with you"
A review of
words by Ellis Reed
Burn, by Bolton film-maker Judson Vaughan, is a fifteen-minute short that’s still enjoying a long and glorious festival run.
It’s a lean psychological horror about Peter, played by Max Cavenham, who makes videos for his unborn son. “I don’t normally like to be in front of the camera,” he says, “but I’m determined to do this for you, little man. You see son, I’m sick.”
The sequence between 02:55 and 05:25, when Peter records a video diary, is a masterclass in horror film-making. On paper, the words are heartwarming, but the performance and direction really dial up the dread. Cavenham speaks to the camera with a quiet intensity that gives his fatherly advice a dark undercurrent. “There’s so much I want to share with you,” he says. At the same time, the acting, score and edits make it abundantly clear that this is a different proposition to My Life (1993), where a dying father made video tutorials about how to shave, jump-start a car and cook spaghetti.
The early minutes are the strongest, but the remaining scenes—which see Lou (Emma Kelly) and Charlie (Matti Kolirin) trying to function as a single-parent unit—certainly don’t disappoint. As with the best short horror films, Burn functions as a complete story with a start, middle and end, and it would make a great segment in a horror anthology. The standout performance comes from Cavenham, but lead actress Kelly deserves high praise for her nuanced work as Lou. She packs an awful lot of depth into a small amount of movie, and her facial expressions when she watches a video of Peter, are superb.
Even though Burn is only fifteen minutes long, the characters and pacing keep you glued to the screen, and the payoff will satisfy fans of the genre—including those who might think they already have the measure of it. “I felt there was a little more in it,” Vaughan says, describing his process with co-writer Chris Barnes. “If you’re going to go there, how far can you go? We agreed to take it just that little bit further…” It was shot for a budget of only £5,000, which, given the quality of the end result, is mind-boggling. There aren’t any enormous set pieces that might decimate a budget, but the acting, editing, score and direction all belong to a much bigger production.
Vaughan is beginning to carve out a nice little niche for himself in the UK indie horror scene. For Burn, the trophy cabinet now boasts Best Short Horror Film (Shriekfest 2017), Best Short Horror (Bristol Independent Film Festival 2018), and many more. His previous short, a supernatural horror called Soul Breaker, also had a triumphant festival run. In front of the camera, he played Jake in 2018’s The Supernaturalist, picking up a nom for Best Actor at the Unrestricted View Film Festival.
At the time of writing, Vaughan is seeking funds for a high concept, higher-budget horror called The Sacrifice. Definitely one to watch for the future!