By Nia Edwards-Behi
I have no qualms in saying that Melanie Light is, to me, one of the most exciting people working in the British horror scene. Vastly experienced as a production designer and art director, Light has demonstrated with her short film work both dedication to the genre and growth in her own craft. The Herd, Light’s most recent short film which played to great acclaim at many festivals last year, is her best work to date, a superb combination of horror and politics.
It’s a film that’s going to piss people off. Anything that mildly suggests that maybe going vegan might be a good idea tends to piss people off, and The Herd damn well rubs your face in the suggestion. That’s no bad thing – this is an unashamedly political film, and it doesn’t shy away from making that clear. Having said that, Light and writer Ed Pope have managed to make an aggressively political film without being clumsy with their message. Instead, that message is distilled, and transformed into an excellent short horror film.
Watch The Herd in full below.
The Herd doesn’t waste any time throwing us into its horrific world, as it opens with a woman, prone and legs in stirrups. We immediately find ourselves right in the dark heart of a farm which breeds women for their milk. We are shown the horrors they suffer and endure at the hands of their captors – men to do the heavy lifting, and a woman who performs medical check-ups and procedures. Amongst the herd of women, we follow one who manages to attempt an escape, witnessing the further extent of the facility she’s been kept in.
The film’s production design is truly excellent, the real location making a world of difference to how believable this world is. Great sound design and casting contributes effectively to the overall feel of the film too. Light’s direction is wonderfully confident here, fluid in a way that gets us up close to the women and their captors without ever feeling like non-sensical shaky-cam. The way her camera moves contributes to the sense of unease and discomfort that the film so deftly elicits. The cast is excellent throughout, but Pollyanna McIntosh (perhaps expectedly) stands out. She plays her role ice-cold, but it’s never in the realm of pantomime. There’s just enough human left under her professional veneer that when the tables turn, her screams are just as horrifying as those we’ve heard throughout the rest of the film.
The film’s final reveal impressively ties the main concern of the film – milk farming – into broader concerns about animal welfare. This isn’t just about the consumption of milk, but its use elsewhere (with milk, of course, also working as a stand-in for just about any other animal by-product you can think of). The very end of the film literalises what we’ve seen play out, with real farm footage forming the backdrop to the credits. It might be a bit much for some – either because it’s too hard to watch or because it hammers home the message – but it’s an important element in the film’s overall message-making.
Even if the vegan message of the film is not to your liking – though it’s one very worth considering, as far as I’m concerned – The Herd stands on its own two feet as a horror film. That it’s got a passionate message behind it only strengthens it, and it’s to Light’s credit that she’s so strongly stuck to her guns and made her lifestyle part of her art too. With a feature film in the works, I’m really looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.