Leash (2020) – Jamie Thornham

Coming in at just under eight minutes, Jamie Thornham’s latest independent short Leash (co-written with Callum York) is an unsettling, eerie horror that follows Caleb as he tries to track down his missing dog Milo. Set at night, Caleb wanders desolate streets, leash in hand. The straight-forward premise becomes clouded by the obscurity of unlit alleys and the unnerving sensation that there is someone else there. It’s hard to tell if Caleb encounters anyone (or anything) along the way, as things are hazy and purposefully left unclear. 

What makes the piece all the more disconcerting is the fact a lot remains unseen, and coupled with the sound effects, a deeply disturbing and off-balance tone is created. The unseen is a huge part of what makes the film, with moments building but holding back on revelation, leaving you with unanswered questions and endless possibilities as to what’s happened.

Edited and colour graded by the director, the film has a rough, shaky cam quality, which makes you feel agitated and on edge. The ominous atmosphere is heightened by the sound design by Harrison Cockbill, which adds so much in the way of tension and creates this overbearing sense of pressure, which you feel zeroing in on Caleb. The sound design adds to the heightened dread and there are creative choices made here that add to the unease of the piece, such as chilling distorted noises and digitised voices. There’s a distressing dog noise in the film that brings to mind the repetitive dog noise in the trailer for the upcoming Netflix release I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and the same foreboding nature is definitely present in Leash. 

Aesthetically my favourite scene takes place in a car park: as Caleb walks through the words ‘NO EXIT’ loom behind him on the parking lot wall, symbolic of the film’s inescapable tone. This scene feels like a turning point in the film, as it takes on elements more in line with a psychological thriller. Andrew Hamblin (Caleb), as the only actor in the film, is able to create a restlessness that feels prevalent throughout: he looks exasperated and worn down, which shows his mental state and raises deeper questions of what’s really going on there. 

Leash doesn’t give you answers, but leaves you to come to your own conclusions, with subtle nuances that hint at Caleb’s internal state. The film deals with themes of isolation, which feel apt in today’s COVID-19 landscape, and the fact it’s focused on Caleb creates this sense of claustrophobia, even though it predominantly takes place outside. Currently submitted for a festival run, it’s exciting to see how Leash resonates with audiences given the relevance of its themes today.

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