Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #653
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: 2017
Sub-Genre: Psychological Drama
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 15 minutes
Director: Judson Vaughan
Producer: Judson Vaughan
Screenplay: Chris Barnes, Judson Vaughan
Visual Effects: Will Culshaw
Cinematography: Joaquim Barreto
Score: Rémi Brossier
Editing: Emma McCleave
Studios: Dragon Egg Media, Slaughtered Bird Films
Stars: Max Cavenham, Emma Kelly, Matti Kolirin, Inês Marcelo Curto, Julius Rost, Sadie-Jane Scott, Judson Vaughan, Annabel Pemberton, Chris Barnes, Steve Harper
♫ Suggested Audio Jukebox
 Cat Stevens Father & Son
 Armin Burckhardt Ghost Waltz
Of all the connections I’ve forged throughout my lifetime, none have been so monumental as the one I shared with my father. While my beloved mother played just as critical a role in my development, it was pops whose guidance shaped me into the man I am today. There exists a unique connection between father and son, something impossible to replicate with any other, and while my dear dad passed away a decade ago now, I still feel his presence in everything I do. Given that I’m a scribe by unpaid trade, I like to consider him my ghost writer of sorts, and not a solitary word has been written without his spiritual input. I know he’ll never steer me wrong as that’s not what personal heroes do and nothing swells me with greater pride than referring to myself as a chip off the old block.
While personal identity is something I assumed all by myself, it was my father who encouraged me to go searching for it and he who fully endorsed my character. Indeed, his was the only persuasion I needed to own it. I consider it a tremendous blessing to have been granted over thirty years with my idol where others aren’t so fortunate. So much of what makes me who I am is directly indebted to him, nothing more so than the strength of character I pride myself on today. That said, certain characteristics were already dyed in the wool and the voyage to enlightenment here is one I’ve needed to undertake solo.
Who am I really? What drives me? Fuels my excitement? Takes responsibility for my actions? And should push come to shove anytime soon, which side of the cliff top will I be facing? Could I kill if such was required of me? More critically, could I do so if not deemed absolutely necessary? Mercifully, I’ve checked all 206 bones in my skeleton and there ain’t a single one of them that’s bad as I wish hardship on not another living soul. Looks like DNA cut me some slack in that department, although my parents certainly had a hand in not raising a bona fide hell raiser and for that I will be eternally grateful to them both.
Of all the unthinkable traumas for any expectant father to forcibly entertain, none are more incomprehensible than the prospect of not being present to witness the birth and development of their unborn son. Teaching the little fella how to kick a ball, cast a rod out, form a fist in self-defense and change a tire – just a few of the simple pleasures stolen away by life’s callous designs on untimely separation. It is every father’s duty in such sorrowful circumstances to do everything in their power to ensure that the basics are covered to set their child up for the long road before them. When that’s the only opportunity available to us, we naturally take it and, with technology advancing in leaps and bounds each time our backs are turned for a second, it’s all about capturing that one pivotal moment digitally. Glorious things video cameras.
One film that has always stuck in my mind is Bruce Joel Rubin’s 1993 weepie My Life, whereby Michael Keaton’s character Bob is diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer while his wife is pregnant with their unborn son and decides to compile a stream of home movies to help him understand who his father was.
Judson Vaughan’s fifteen minute short Burn, co-written with Chris Barnes, charts a similar trajectory, albeit with a far less sentimental tone. Make absolutely no mistake, its impact is every bit as potent, but for different reasons entirely.
Burn introduces us to the Vaubarns, Peter (Max Cavenham) and Louise (Emma Kelly), a typical suburban couple and the kind you may find yourselves living next door to. They are expecting their first child and this should be a momentously happy occasion for both but, for reasons unspecified, it appears as though their life together is soon to be cut unceremoniously short. Time is of the essence here and this is one luxury Peter doesn’t seemingly have at his disposal. Realizing that he will never get to know his son intimately, he decides to take affirmative action.
While Louise caresses her baby bump, Peter sets up a video camera and commences his personal address. However, this doesn’t entail providing a tutorial on how to kick a ball, cast a rod, form a fist in self-defense or change a tire. I will purposely remain vague on precisely what he chooses to share but let’s just say it certainly doesn’t lack sincerity. Peter’s only wish is to reveal to his son exactly what kind of man he is in the hope that, one day, it can assist in the wiring of his young and malleable mind. After all, like father like son right?
The story then promptly ushers us forth into the present where Louise now has to contend with playing the lone parent role to her precious son, Charlie (Matti Kolirin). On the surface, Charlie looks no different to any other boy his age, all wide-eyed wonderment and piqued curiosity but, beneath the bright eyes and bushy tail, he’s still very much a work in progress.
The time is drawing close for Louise to arrange a viewing, before the world around him (which is closing in fast at this point) robs him of his childlike innocence. Why leave it down to intellectual theft when his own father can request it affectionately? However, before she can pluck up the courage, Charlie happens across the film by chance and settles in for a little private screening.
The closing third of Burn is immensely powerful as the majority of it is spent gazing into Charlie’s unflinching peepers as he drinks in every last one of daddy’s words and the audience is made privy to the full extent of this particular legacy. Kolirin is exquisitely cast as Charlie, sporting the kind of curly hair mop and bunny-like blinkers that call to mind the kids of Italian cinema at the close of the seventies. Cinematographer Joaquim Barreto captures the most bitter of truths through reflection as Charlie’s pupils widen to accommodate such decisive enlightenment, while Rémi Brossier‘s quietly eerie score caters just as open-handedly to our ears.
Vaughan’s direction is downright superb from stem to stern, with every last shot beautifully framed and brimming with purpose. Meanwhile, the characters and relationships he and Barnes create feel genuine and nothing whatsoever is forced, which is critical in securing our full undivided in such a brief amount of time. If there’s a critique to be drawn, then certain exposition fits awkwardly in an attempt to paint a broader picture than fifteen minutes could ever hope to facilitate. That said, this in itself is a distinct positive in my book as it shows that their concept has the legs to run farther than the short sprint it is afforded here. Much like a young mind, Burn is simply pleading to be kneaded and molded into something less time sensitive.
As Louise, Kelly supplies on two separate counts – both as carefree mom to be and deadened widow. Much of the emotional burden is hers to shoulder as she’s the only person present through each of the film’s three stages. She conveys every emotion with great generosity and is just as magnanimous when taking a back seat for father and son to “bond”.
Ultimately, it is here that Burn strikes its most unforgettable chord, the moments shared by Peter and Charlie that will linger on after the credits roll. Cavenham is pretty much every director’s dream as his unblinking stare invites the camera’s lens deeper into it, as though double-daring it inside Peter’s personal head space as he delivers his remarkable one-way sermon.
When you consider that Burn cost less than £5k to produce, the results are astonishing. We are treated to stunning aerial shots of the family home, stylish day-night transitions, stellar performances across the board and a score which isn’t merely present to plug the gaps. Most critically however, Vaughan and Barnes have fashioned a short film with a unique flame that burns bright. Fifteen minutes may not be a particularly lengthy amount of time to tell a story, particularly one with the ability to resonate so strongly on an emotional level, but they do so here with considerable aplomb. And I, for one, strike a match to that. 🔥
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
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