Writers: Gareth Brierley and Fiona Creese
Director: Gavin Brierley
Retiring from a long career can bring mixed feelings and HR Manager Sidney Williams is overwhelmed by conflicting emotions during his final day at a factory in Gareth Brierly and Fiona Creese’s new short film People Show 138: Last Day. Borrowing a hallucinatory style from horror film with a sympathetic characterisation, this is a story that that explores whether the opportunity for a new life can be drowned out by regrets.
Sidney is about to retire and, with obligatory carriage clock in hand, he takes one last tour of the deserted plant where he has worked for three decades. Remembering the hundreds of staff who have consulted him in his capacity as HR Manager, Sidney’s hopes for retirement are challenged as he confronts his own responsibility for a terrible deed.
“I am a ghost now” Sidney states at the start of this 15-minute film, knowing that like all people who leave a company, he will be soon forgotten with no professional or personal status within the building. As director, Brierley creates a growing sense of unease as Sidney wanders through the office spaces, bathrooms and corridors increasingly haunted by the accusatory faces of the staff in his care.
Initially, these are fairly anodyne, a speed reel of people describing their personalities flashes before the viewer as Sidney recalls one-to-one session with countless individuals which become squeakier as their voices are sped up before Brierley cuts to an angry mob in burgundy lab coats. As People Show 138: Last Day unfolds the behaviour of the crowd of workers becomes more menacing, appearing as a pack designed to intimidate and disturb him.
Alongside Sound Designer Rob Kennedy and Art Director Jessica Worrall, Brierley adopts the discomposing techniques of horror, including sudden visions of blood developing on the protagonist’s arms and workers’ heads inferring a terrible tragedy that Sidney wishes to avoid, or the group appearing suddenly in the mirror as Sidney washes his hands.
It is clear that Sidney is intimidated by his impending retirement and increasingly overwhelmed by the memories and regrets that drive up his fear. Tyrone Huggins suggests a man eager for the ease of retirement, looking forward to its lack of responsibility and time to go for walks, but knows he will never truly release these demons that press repeatedly into his consciousness, leading to a symbolic final gesture.
Being only 15-minutes long, the film only lightly suggests the true story behind the HR Manager’s fears and the characterisation is necessarily thin both in terms of implying the long career that Sidney has endured as well as lacking ambiguity about the level of regret he now feels. It would have been more interesting to recast Sidney’s arc, playing down the initial eeriness and scaring the excited retiree into confronting events he seems to have caused.
There is a lot of menace in Last Day and Jonathan Bloom’s cinematography uses the bleakness of the empty warehouse to add to the tension while the University of Roehampton’s Drama, Theatre and Performance students make for a gruesome crowd. And while its stock horror movie components offer few surprises, there is a lingering note of terrified remorse that makes Last Day an interesting watch.
Available until 23 October