Short film review: Halfway House (2017)

Back in 2013, actor Leslie Simpson made a foray into filmmaking with his directorial debut, the atmospheric short film Grandpa. Simpson is back with another short, written and directed by him, and it’s a wonderful step-up for the multi-talented filmmaker. Here he takes the lead as Joseph, a seemingly normal man, living in a nice house with his wife Stazi (Phoebe Ashford). Something goes bump one night, and the next morning, things in the house have moved. Stazi’s sure there’s a rational explanation. The next time it happens, more things move, and the detectives (Anna Burgess and Nicholas Politis) are even more sceptical. Joseph and Stazi become increasingly concerned by the goings-on in their home, and have to take matters into their own hands.

Just like his previous short, Halfway House makes excellent use of a single filming location. Simpson’s talent as a director has grown quite significantly since Grandpa, and there are some truly wonderful shots in the film. There’s a particular, pivotal sequence, mid-way through the film, that’s really quite masterful and impressive. The film is shot in gorgeous black and white, and the most is made of that.

Story-wise, there’s enough ambiguity about what’s going on that the film rather lets you make up your own mind. You might be left scratching your head in a way that leaves you wanting more, but given a little thought a number of interpretations offer themselves up. Metaphor? Sociological experiment? Multiple planes of existence? Demons? A little bit of everything? I’ll let you decide, but if you ask me, there’s something of a social-realist Fulci to Halfway House.

There are two pairs of central performances, and all the actors here are marvellous. Simpson brings earthy, everyman charm to Joseph, while Ashford is the slightly less serious but no less believable Stazi. Opposite them, Burgess and Politis as the two detectives offer up the film’s light relief with the driest of irreverent humour.

There might be one or two details that belie the film’s low budget, but they’re minor indeed, and few and far between. The film’s atmospheric score sometimes verges on over-whelming the action, but it’s otherwise a fine addition to the film’s world. Halfway House is a satisfying short, but there’s tremendous scope for something more here. Simpson can obviously pull off wonderful things on a low budget and with a good team, so there’s no reason at all he can’t make the step-up to feature filmmaking, given the right circumstances.

Keep an eye out for Halfway House, which will soon be playing festivals worldwide. Learn more at the Facebook page.