Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Rite of Rosemary

Director: Daniel Webb
Writer: Daniel Webb
Producers: Daniel Webb, Sara Jimenez Criado
Cast: Bill Thomas, Guy Barnes, Tanya Page
Country: UK
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: Online screener

In the context of this impressive and enjoyable short, Rosemary means the herb, not the girl’s name. Dan Webb’s half-hour film is principally a two-hander between Bill Thomas as Thomas, an old guy who has moved from his large house into an adjacent lodge, and Guy Barnes as Jack, the son who returns after years away.

These two fine actors create a solid and believable relationship between the characters, a familial antagonism based on the secrets that each keeps from the other (and they both initially keep from us). Through their tense conversations – and a flashback featuring Jack Stevenson as young Jack – we find out something of their history. Initially Jack seems more of a threat, but Thomas is also a dangerous man. His reduced home has religious icons and he chides his son for taking the Lord’s name in vain. A painting of the Virgin Mary is essentially the Chekhov’s Gun of religious obsession, so we know that Thomas’ dogmatic faith will come into play later on.

Webb’s screenplay - based on a short story by Sarah Scanlan - is cleverly structured and flows well, so that the film seems to fly by. I’ve watched shorts of eight or nine minutes that seemed to drag compared to this one. To go into too much detail would be to risk spoilers; suffice to say there is a little violence, a little prosthetic gruesomeness and a good slice of obsessive wacko determination.

Bill Thomas is a veteran character actor of more than 40 years’ standing with TV credits that include Minder, Poirot, Boon, Lovejoy, Bergerac and many other classics shows. He was in The Tenth Kingdom, episodes of Merlin and Atlantis, and one episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Guy Barnes has a much shorter IMDB list but it includes Rock Band vs Vampires and an Aliens fan film, plus he sings the end credits song for this film. The cast also includes Tanya Page as a police officer and Charlotte Mount in a role that it would be a spoiler to identify.

Among the crew, one notable name with multiple British horror credits is costume designer Sallyann Short whose other gigs include Nightmare Box, FirstBorn, Let’s Be Evil, Shed of the Dead and The Devil Went Down to Islington.

Dan Webb has directed a few shorts in recent years and and has been editor on a bunch of other people’s movies. You won’t find it on the IMDB but way back in 2007, when he was but a slip of a lad, he shot a zero-budget feature called The Zombie Survival Guide.

The Rite of Rosemary is an accomplished work, with echoes of classic British folk horror. Webb uses his cast and his location well to tell an intriguing, disturbing story. If I'm being picky, some of the cinematography is a bit dark and the initial concept of a killer on the loose is not fully developed and consequently seems something of an unnecessary red herring. But neither of these factors impinged on my enjoyment and appreciation of the film.

Currently playing festivals, The Rite of Rosemary was shot in June 2014. It screened for cast and crew in September of that year and was briefly available online in summer 2015 as part of the Top Shorts Online Film Festival.

MJS rating: B+

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