Thursday, December 21, 2017

Yuletide Terror: We Always Find Ourselves in the Sea (short)

These days, Christmas horror is all about being naughty rather than nice. The lamer ones are transgressive just for the sake offending, while the best are darkly comic. Yet, there is a different tradition, exemplified by the BBC’s annual literary short film program, A Ghost Story for Christmas. Of course, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the granddaddy of all Christmas horror (Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future are pretty sinister cats). Sean Hogan’s new horror short is definitely in the latter tradition. Yet, We Always Find Ourselves in the Sea is still spooky enough to screen as part of the launch tour for the new anthology book, Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Filmand Television (trailer here).

Patrick’s modest seaside hovel might be pleasant in the summer, but it is depressingly dreary during the dead of winter. Due to past mistakes, Patrick is spending the holiday season alone, writing Christmas cards to himself. That sounds bad, but it gets worse when he starts to hear ominous voices rising from the sea. Yet, when a visitor from the past suddenly arrives, he hopes it heralds redemption, but it is more likely to be a reckoning of sorts.

Britain’s southern coast is clearly unremittingly chilly and gray around this time of year, but cinematographers Paul Goodwin and Jim Hinson make it look startlingly cinematic. Visually, this is a heck of an impressively framed film, yet there is also some real human drama going on. Billy Clarke’s portrayal of Patrick is as honest and real as any you will see in “proper” Oscar-bait films. He is clearly haunted, in every conceivable way. On the other end of the spectrum, Jamie Birkett keeps viewers completely off-balance as his reserved but vaguely unsettling visitor.

In some ways, Hogan’s film shares a kinship with Jo Lewis’s short, Whisper, but it is more fully realized. Perhaps somewhat awkwardly, it is considerably superior to many of the features it has shared a bill with with, in conjunction with Yuletide Terror launch events. Very highly recommended, We Always Find Ourselves in the Sea screens tonight (12/21) in Philadelphia at PhilaMOCA and Saturday (12/23) in Chicago, at Heirloom Books.