“You are the architect of your own heaven and hell.”
Watching Last Orders, the new short film from Jon James Smith, I couldn’t help but wonder what his first full-length feature might be like? I say that because based on what I watched in Last Orders I would anticipate something great, or at the very least, ambitious. Last Orders is first a magnificent horror short, and second…………….well, there could be multiple different things depending on your perspective. What I got from it was a great story with some ambiguity (for the better), all wrapped in tidy little short that is ominous from start to finish.
Last Orders revolves around a bartender named Daniel. Daniel seems like the kind of guy who talks low and keeps things even but could easily knock someone out if they pushed him too far. Daniel is closing up shop one night at a bar he works at in London when he gets an unexpected last-minute customer.
The customer (played by Steven Elder) states to Daniel that he believes they have met before. Steven Elder plays the character with eerie menace and it’s pretty clear that he has motives aside from just a nightcap at the London bar. This man does have a name, but you don’t find out until the end credits what it is. After I was done with Last Orders, I looked up the name and got a lot of background on the customer from what I found. That kind of detail is perfect for someone like me who loves getting into the different worlds that film entails. Daniel and the customer have an uncomfortable conversation. Daniel starts remembering the man they have met before; as soon as Daniel remembers, the man is headed out the door. Daniel is shortly after that plagued with strange noises in the bar’s basement and whatever history Daniel and the mystery man had seemed to have thrown him off the edge.
Following the mysterious man’s departure, Daniel closes the shop and heads to the basement. Daniel opens a safe in the basement of the bar and it contains a letter from (or supposed to have been for) a girl named Holly. In that safe are a few other items that give some insight into Daniel’s past and present. Daniel hears the sound of metallic dragging sound on the floor in the basement that he can’t seem to isolate among other strange noises. Daniel spends time checking the dark corners of the cellar, looking for the source but to no avail. And when one asks why Daniel would do such a thing, the answer has already presented itself in one of the items he earlier removes from the safe when he opens it. Like so many others, Daniel might have liked to have lived a life different from the one he chose and while not outright stating it, the short film implies it throughout. Daniel eventually comes face to face with what’s in the basement of the London bar. Does Daniel remember who the mysterious man is? What events happened in Daniel’s past to lead him to these circumstances?
Last Orders is well done and polished in the story, acting, music, and setting. So well done, in fact, that I would seriously hope to see what Jon James Smith could do with a feature-length film. The film was shot all in one locale primarily and it makes the most of it.
Scenes are lit beautifully and many of the film shots use darkness and light to exacerbate the dread Daniel faces himself in. Both actors are excellently understated in how they play their parts. Grand gestures are few and far between and resonate more for that reason. The music in the film is by Stewart Dugdale. I found it fit the movie perfectly.
The music involves the frenetic playing of piano keys at one moment and then moves to chant-like vocals in the next moment, both of which fit well into the moment playing out. The sound design by Stewart Dugdale and Jon James Smith was notable. In particular, I love how one late character was voiced in the short. But the strange assortment of noises that Daniel investigates were all well done and highlighted the dread throughout the short.
Last Orders is a fun horror short and it doesn’t give away all its secrets and it’s better for it. The sense of imbalance it imparts is exactly its greatest strength. We don’t get to know everything that led to this point nor do we necessarily need to know to make sense of or understand what is happening. Last Orders lives in the horror that burns slow and breathes atmosphere as a horror short. It gives out some crumbs here and there and leaves it to the viewer any whys. For this viewer, one quote from the movie summed it up for me after it was over and it was at the beginning of this review. Maybe it’s too philosophical, but I believe it, and I’ll drink to it every time.