Calum Rhys’ short film Nightmare of the Past gives us a glimpse of a soldier (Morgan T. Rhys) trying to come to grips with the horrors he’s witnessed, and committed, during recent battles.
Since the short is less than ten minutes long, to say much more about what happens is to pretty much give away the entire experience, so I’m going to focus more on the aspects that aren’t quite so play-by-play. The unique elements of the film mostly involve the look, a black and white aesthetic, and the setting, which is the battle-ravaged woods somewhere around London in 2024. A gas mask is almost universally accepted nowadays as shorthand for “futuristic wasteland,” so our subject is rocking one. It’s a touch that clues you in, but also a lazy stereotype at this point.
Because, and here’s the main question one has about this short film, why is it set in the future, and why London? Save for the opening title that says as much, there’s really no indication of the where or when, save that stereotypical post-apocalypse-friendly gas mask. The setting and time doesn’t enhance the story in the slightest; this tale could’ve been told in modern times without much issue.
Likewise, this is another case where the filmmaker’s ambitions ran headfirst into the shortcomings of their resources. While there are a number of filmmaking tricks utilized in the edit to give an impression otherwise (and at least one of them is extremely impressive), when battles are glimpsed it’s often our one man, alone, and the illusion is broken. It’s a rough criticism to lodge, mainly because I don’t want to dissuade a filmmaker from attempting something bold and ambitious in the face of lacking resources (and in many areas of this one, such choices succeed), but it’s also a risk that can undermine quite a lot if it doesn’t work. We know it’s the future, we know it’s London, and we know there’s fighting going on because of the sounds of war all around, but mostly we see one guy fighting alone and don’t know any other real context that could explain any of it.
I think the core of this short is strong, and I understand the true battle going on in the soldier, and that’s what is narratively the most important aspect. There are filmmaking elements that are extremely strong, both in composition and in editorial flow. I think the short succeeds in making the point it’s setting out to make. I don’t think it succeeds in as epic a fashion as it appears to think it does, however, and unfortunately it causes a momentary pause of “that’s interesting” that doesn’t quite sustain long enough to mark the entire endeavor as exceptional.
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