Short Film Review: Vestige

  • Reviews

Debuting at FrightFest this year is Joseph Simmons atmospheric and ambitious short, Vestige. A creepy tale that bristles with intensity and features an unsettling mix of Lovecraftian horror with more than a flavour of MR James’ melancholy and otherworldly hauntings.

Lucas (Ben Hackett) is a teenager struggling with the loss of his father who has recently been lost at sea. Now living with his grandfather in a beautiful old seaside house, Lucas listens to his father’s voice in scratchy tape recordings he had left behind in an old Walkman. Walking one day, Lucas discovers an unsettling, otherworldly fossil on the beach which seems to help him uncover a hidden message in his father’s recordings; a message that may enable Lucas bring his dad back home.

Still from Vestige

Any film where a character finds something unusual on a beach that they then take home as their own will feel the hand of MR James on their shoulder. And sure enough, the early parts of the film feel rich with echoes of Whistle and I’ll Come to You as Lucas begins to succumb to the influences of his new fossil.

Vestige is a short that is packed with atmosphere from the off; the gorgeous, ominous waves of the winter oceans crashing down on the rocky beach that Lucas walks provides a stark and dark backdrop to a story filled with loss and longing.

The cinematography by Ben Halford across the piece is remarkable and gives the short a much larger scope and feel. There is a real sense of the edges of endless eternity scratching at the frame as the intimidating ocean crashes and sways in the distance.

Anyone with a love of old tech will be in their element here as Vestige uses the return of analogue recordings in our digital age to further reinforce the sense of otherness that hangs over the film. The soundscapes created as Lucas listens to his dad’s voice are remarkable and really help to put us in the character’s head. And when the odd-looking fossil begins to warp and distort the voice on the machine, the creep factor of the film begins to climb higher and higher.

Ben Hackett and Steve Evets give terrific performances and really help to elevate the short above many of its contemporaries. The relationship between them feels real and weighted, and the anguish of Evets’ character is always on display long before he erupts near the film’s climax. Hackett cuts a lonely and forlorn figure throughout and his desire to find his father feels convincing and harrowing; but as seasoned horror fans, we know that this quest can only end in one way.

Still from Vestige

The film is the very model of reserve, yet still contains one or two moments of remarkable horror. I won’t soon forget the writhing, squirming of cassette tape in Lucas’ room like a crawling, sentient seaweed as he tries to unlock the final secret to his father’s disappearance.

And while the film remains grounded and sombre throughout, it really lets loose with a final shot that is audacious, and frankly remarkable, on such a small budget.

Vestige is a film whose tone and tempo is rich with loss, longing and melancholy. In such a short time, it builds a compelling narrative and story that leads the viewer gently down a nightmarish path before unleashing a moment of chilling, crowd-pleasing horror that will go down great at FrightFest.

If ever a film was going to break my nostalgia for my Sony Walkman, this might just be the one.

Vestige premieres at FrightFest as part of Short Film Showcase 3 on Monday 28th August at 6:30pm.

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