Reviews Short Narrative

Terror (2019) – 4 stars

Director: Ashley Scott

Writer: Ashley Scott

Cast: Ashley Scott, Katie Ray

Running time: 14mins

Isolated from context, Terror is a 12-minute lesson in tension; a pure distillation of a single moment in time that few first-time filmmakers would attempt to pull off. Writer/Director Ashley Scott must be applauded then, not only for having the gall to take on such a difficult topic, but to further subject himself to scrutiny by starring in it too.

The film serves to humanise perpetrators of violence, giving an insight into the mental anguish for which people scarcely have space or sympathy. The acting is gripping and sufficiently intense to convey the true gravity of the moment.

The story follows a single night and morning in the life of Jay (Scott), a young man who has appears to have just carried out a bomb attack in his home-town, killing several people. He returns home to stark normality, shell shocked by what he has just done, and stands in front of a mirror rehearsing how he is going to lie to his mother about it, reciting a claim that “It was Joel, Mum. I knew him from school.”

His mother, well aware of what he’s done, hears his rehearsals and locks herself away in her room for the night, ignoring his attempts to begin a conversation. His plan thrown off, Jay is left thoroughly unsettled to pace back and forth, contemplating what he has done. Radio coverage of the attack plays in the background, appearing to signify the steady hum of doom playing through the boy’s mind as the minutes tick by.

The morning after is palpably tense. Mum prepares breakfast in a maddeningly slow-paced scene. Scott might have hoped to build tension here, but this ends up simply being two minutes of watching milk and eggs. After this vexing loss of momentum, however, the film manages to regain traction, as a face-to-face conversation finally ensues between mother and son over the breakfast table. Over its course, nuggets of information are gradually extracted, confirming suspicions that viewers will have held from the first moments of the film.

Mum gradually breaks down Jay’s fabricated narrative – his exact whereabouts and even the existence of Joel – before a sudden cut confirms that beneath the serene breakfast scene, both players are prepared for a violent end-game. One final attempt to defuse the situation sees the mother produces two horrific trump-cards – one of which sadly ties to the photographs of Clara (presumably Jay’s little sister) which adorn many of the walls in the house.

In spite of this, the audience is left wondering whether Joel will face the music for his actions, having been caught red-handed. The film ends with no more certainty than it begins with, suspended in an endless Bohemian Rhapsody-esque moment of a son confessing his crimes to his mother. Less is definitely more in this case, and the lack of context and  restrained plot both add to the power of this moment, though the unnecessary elongation of certain scenes dilute it.

Some of the silences in Terror stretch out to the point of being more frustrating than engaging, calling perhaps for a tighter cut in the next project – as more could have been said in even less time with this film. Nevertheless, Director Ashley Scott certainly has the raw materials here to keep viewers engaged and, to some extent, seeking more. The idea to isolate a single conversation and leave the rest to the imagination must be applauded, as must the gripping performances of this minimalistic film.

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