Four men and a coffin
If ever there was an inspired title that epitomises folk horror, then Sean Hogan’s mini feature “To Fire You Come at Last” captures the subgenre perfectly. As a writer Hogan’s work has always remained passionate, leaning into the homage with his Suspects-inspired horror tomes England’s Screaming and Twilight’s Last Screaming, in which he brings together a mix of characters from both British and US horror movies to deliver a single chronology. A HCU (Horror Cinematic Universe), if you like. His books are as much about his love of film through woven narratives, and here — in the dark of night — Hogan once again embraces what he knows best with his genuine sense of history and respect for folk horror and ‘horror folk’. Of course, Severin Films are no stranger to folk horror. Having delivered Kier-La Janisse’s incredible documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched — along with the release of the glorious boxset All the Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium of Folk Horror — it is more than fitting they produced Hogan’s film.
The tale, very much in the vein of Beckett and classic M.R. James adaptations of the ’70s, leaves no room for fireside chat; instead presenting a short journey of four men entrusted to walk a coffin to the local graveyard for burial. At first, there are two: Squire Mallow (Mark Carlisle), and best friend of the deceased, Holt (Harry Roebuck)… until a thuggish manservant Pike (Richard Rowden) and drunken peasant Ransley (James Swanton) arrive at the scene, altering the class dynamics significantly. Night falls and they all make their way through the dark carrying the coffin, conversations revealing the ancient folklore of the land as their route becomes all the more fuelled with superstitions making them hesitant to continue walking their dark path. It isn't long before they start to quarrel, leading to violence and, as they find themselves engulfed more and more by the darkness, a malevolent force reveals itself.
Shot in black and white, Hogan’s film — aside from the more stilted and hammy performances — feels like an offshoot of Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England but relies on a more traditional (uncanny) structure. Without the luxury of delving into his prose (and subsequent drafts), for its 45-minute running time the film tends to meander slightly, yet, considering it was written and filmed in a very short period of time, such criticisms should be left in the dark. Indeed, most of the film’s success is in its sense of capturing the black of night — filmed during the early hours — and although filmed digitally, Hogan even takes the time to infuse the film with just the right amount of texture. Surprisingly — considering Severin’s macabre catalogue of inspiration — this is a rather restrained film that leans more into the roots of folk horror and a douse of speculative fiction that delivers a genuinely puzzling artefact… right up to its final fiery moment.