To Fire You Come At Last


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

To Fire You Come At Last
"Coloured with rural folklore, this black and white take on the experience on 17th Century life is deeply English in its sensibilities." | Photo: courtesy of Frightfest

An exercise in minimalist filmmaking, with just four active characters, a simple set of outdoor locations and a slender 45 minute running time, Sean Hogan’s To Fire You Come At Last, which screened as part of Frightfest 2023, tells the story of Squire Mallow (Mark Carlisle), a man intent on transporting the body of his only son, Aldis, to the local cemetery where it can receive a Christian burial. This seemingly straightforward task is complicated by fact that dusk is falling and nobody in the locality likes the idea of being on the lichway at night. They say that the Devil himself rides that road at night; they also say that a gigantic, headless hound has been seen running alongside it, presaging doom. The Squire is not impressed by such superstition, but by the end of the night, he may feel differently.

Persuaded by various means to accompany him on this journey are loyal henchman Pike (Richard Rowden), Aldis’ best friend Holt (Harry Roebuck) and simpering, duplicitous drunkard Ransley (James Swanton). Each man has his own reason to be there, and each has his secrets. These are exposed one after another, each time requiring us to re-evaluate what has gone before and any allegiances which we might have developed. It’s not a new dramatic device, and in places it’s rather heavy-handed, but the actors are all capable enough and the tensions which develop between the characters are complicated by the fact that they need to stick together and complete their task, or face the various supernatural terrors – including divine retribution – to which they feel exposed.

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Coloured with rural folklore, this black and white take on the experience on 17th Century life is deeply English in its sensibilities, and is interesting in part because relatively few people living in England today will be familiar with the experience of being truly alone out in the dark, with no-onw within shouting distance and not a glimmer of artificial light. That deep darkness is, there at least, a thing of the past, and as such there will be people watching this who need to make a mental leap to understand just how vulnerable the film’s characters feel.

In this context, fire might not seem like a bad thing. The men are doubtless thinking of sheltering by a warm fire in some tavern at the end of their journey. The blazing of their lanterns is a flimsy weapon against the vastness of night. The title, of course, refers to hellfire, and yet also to its light, the light of knowledge, wherein danger lies. The men are caught between the vulnerability of ignorance and the awful reckoning of truth. They are small figures moving along a narrow pathway from which they might easily stumble, always aware of the precarity of their existence in a universe of overwhelmingly powerful forces.

The formal structure of the film, neatly divided into chapters, adds to its old fashioned quality. Had the technology been available, one might imagine the film being made in much the same way centuries ago. It’s a cautionary tale, a warning about the dangers of immoral behaviour, but it doesn’t take the Devil to lead a guilty man to his doom, and modern viewers will find satisfaction here as well. After all, what is cinema but the emanation of a magical lantern shared by strangers in the dark?

Reviewed on: 15 Sep 2023
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In rural 17th century England, a group of men gather to carry a coffin on the long walk to the local graveyard for burial. A great deal of ancient folklore and superstition surrounds the pathway to the church, and several of the party are afraid to walk it after dark.

Director: Sean Hogan

Starring: Mark Carlisle, James Swanton, Harry Roebuck, Richard Rowden

Year: 2023

Runtime: 43 minutes

Country: UK

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