Of all the films playing at FrightFest this year, To Fire You Come at Last just might be the most intriguing. It’s a 45-minute black-and-white folk horror short that’s being billed as “an atmospheric homage to the great tradition of British supernatural television from the 1970s,” and as a huge fan of folk horror, I was hooked by that description alone. What’s more, this movie was produced by Severin Films, the company that gave us the fantastic folk horror documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror, so I had high hopes that these guys would knock it out of the park again. I was really curious to see how this film turned out, and after finally getting the chance to watch it, I’m happy to report that it mostly succeeds.
To Fire You Come at Last was written and directed by Sean Hogan, and it stars Mark Carlisle, James Swanton, Harry Roebuck, and Richard Rowden. The story is set in 17th-century England, and it’s about four men who come together to carry a coffin to a graveyard for burial. That’s pretty creepy in itself, but on top of that, they also have to travel a path that’s steeped in superstition. The locals say it’s haunted by all sorts of spirits and spooks, and some members of the group are even afraid to walk it at night.
However, the father of the deceased offers to double the men’s wages, so they eventually accept the job and set out for the graveyard. At first, everything goes pretty smoothly, but soon enough, the group’s journey takes a horrific turn for the worse.
From that premise, you might expect To Fire You Come at Last to be a spookfest that throws creepy scares at you every few minutes, but it’s actually a pretty slow burn. Granted, since it’s only about 45 minutes long, it can’t be too slow, but it still takes its time preparing for the uncanny horror that eventually unfolds.
In fact, for most of its runtime, it’s just these four guys walking in the dark and talking, and at most, we just get a few hints here and there of the terrors to come. It’s only in the final 10 minutes or so that the horror really comes to the fore, so the film can’t get by on its scares alone. It relies pretty heavily on its characters too, and they’re the reason why I said To Fire You Come at Last only mostly succeeds.
On the whole, I didn’t mind them too much, but there was one character I had a bit of an issue with. One of the members of the group is a local drunkard named Ransley, and actor James Swanton goes a little over the top with his performance. He’s just too cartoonish for a serious horror film like this, so even though Swanton does a good job playing that kind of character, his vibe simply doesn’t fit the story.
I didn’t have any big problems with the rest of the coffin carriers, but I didn’t love them either. They don’t detract from the film the way Ransley does, but they also don’t add anything to it. Granted, if To Fire You Come at Last were longer, they probably wouldn’t have been able to carry it the whole way through, but since the movie is so short, they’re decent enough.
That’s a fairly serious weakness, and if anything else had gone wrong in this film, the combination probably would’ve proven fatal. But thankfully, To Fire You Come at Last pretty much nails everything else. For example, the cinematography is excellent, so even when nothing particularly interesting is happening on screen, the movie is always pretty nice to look at.
But hands down, the best thing about this film is the horror. Like I said, it’s a rather slow burn, so the scares don’t really kick in until the final 10 minutes or so. Up until then, we mainly just get rising tension within the group, and it’s pretty intriguing. As the characters talk and get to know each other a bit, some dark and unexpected secrets come to light, and these revelations unfold at a nearly perfect pace.
Then, when those tensions boil over into genuine horror, To Fire You Come at Last gets even better. It’s not quite what you might expect given the premise of carrying a corpse on an allegedly haunted pathway, but I actually appreciated that. Writer/Director Sean Hogan resists the temptation to go the easy, cliched route, and instead, he takes the story in a direction that ends up feeling much more natural and organic.
Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that this movie is all about the characters and their hidden secrets, and the horror in the finale doesn’t forget that. It keeps the focus firmly where it’s been the entire time, and it only incorporates the legends and superstitions surrounding the haunted path when they fit the story Sean Hogan is trying to tell.
It makes for some really eerie and effective horror, so even though To Fire You Come at Last isn’t quite as good as it could’ve been, I still walked away pretty happy. It’s a worthy new entry in the folk horror canon, and if you’re a fan of this subgenre, you should give it a watch when it becomes available to a wider audience.
To Fire You Come at Last had its world premiere at FrightFest on August 26.