Directed by Carl Mason Starring Toby Mace, Melanie Gray and Christopher Hughes Short Film Review by Owen Herman
First Response begins with two police officers responding to a domestic violence call out. It then builds tension and fear as it slowly hints that everything is not what it seems. Carl Mason has made a superbly tense horror short film that will keep you on the edge of your seat, even if it is just for 5 minutes.
Mason chose to film the entire short in one genuine take (no hidden cuts). This can be very difficult and frustrating, as is demonstrated in the behind the scenes footage, so it is impressive that it actually works. Long takes can often be slightly gimmicky, but here it allows tension to be felt in real time and adds a slow pace that lets this tension build toward the dramatic, and unexpected, conclusion. The use of mirrors is an impressive technical achievement; setting the short film inside a police car and then using the car’s mirrors was a great idea. The rear view mirror permits the camera to focus on a police officer but still allows for the perpetrator to be visible in the frame, creating an unnerving feeling that at any moment, something could happen.
The tight, clever script helps to add mystery to every moment; you are constantly wanting to find out more information. The performances from all are flawless, helping to make every detail utterly convincing.
The sound design also deserves a mention. On top of a pulse raising score, Mason has incorporated police sirens, radio chatter and 999 calls into the background sound which get quicker and louder as tensions rise. It is a brilliant, quite innovative use of real sounds to amplify the score and it works well.
My only issue with First Response is that it is too dark. Not in content but, literally, too dark. I understand it needs to be set at night to work and there are some great shots with the contrasting interior car lights and the blue of the siren, but after watching the behind the scenes video I realised I had completely missed the impressive makeup effects because I couldn’t actually see them. This small problem is overshadowed by First Response’s merits, a tense short that really kept me engaged.