Director Fred Rowson has returned with the latest in a series of unnerving short films inspired by the bizarre and banal characters of South London. Rodney stars a retiree with macabre hobby –he has a pet cemetery in his back garden. So far, so innocent (although a bit strange) until the film’s chirpy narrator tells us about his wife Beatrice, who has left him, perhaps under more gruesome circumstances than Rodney is letting on.
The short film (commissioned and produced by Blink) follows Fred’s last personal work, Pauline, a supernatural thriller about a woman who believes her oven is haunted. Like Pauline, the character of Rodney Pink is inspired by the personalities of Lewisham. “When I was younger that part of London was filled with decaying Victorian mansions, inhabited by people whose families had been living there since the 50s,” Fred explains. “Now these places are all worth about a million, and the area has become very genteel, so in the tradition of something like The Magnificent Ambersons and Grey Gardens, I wanted to make a film about faded glory.”
Fred is a fan of genre cinema and playing with its tropes to amuse and capture the audience. “People get genre. They get true crime, or horror. As soon as you put people in that headspace you can start to tease them a bit. You can make them laugh by doing or saying something stupid or unexpected, and hopefully they start to find they’re caring more about the character.” Rodney starts off as merely an eccentric, but quickly becomes suspicious in the eyes of the viewer as his maniacally happy exterior cracks, and he’s plagued – Macbeth-like – by bloody interludes. Fred explains that he uses composition and pace to construct this character arc. “The visual atmosphere is all led by the character,” he says.
“In Pauline, she’s very icy and confrontational so all the shots were precise and neatly framed. Rodney is the opposite: gregarious, gangly, loose. So it had to be a bit messy. I got into the mindset of someone who’s (maybe) done something awful, that’s where the flash cuts come from. I love gathering pace. I wanted it to feel like a runaway train, where evidence accrues at an alarming rate, and the secret slips through Rodney’s fingers," the director explains. Fred also uses colour as a device to build personality. “Rodney spends a lot of time digging in his garden, so everything’s green and brown. What’s he burying? Bodies. So there’s got to be that yellow of decay. And what does / did his wife Beatrice hate? Everything to do with Rodney’s hobby! So her colour needs to be a startling opposite to what he stands for: purple.”
Despite the horrific undertones, the process of making the film, particularly the pet cemetery, sounds like a fun day for the family. “I spent a very wholesome Sunday making the gravestones with my dad, my sister and my cousin,” Fred says. “All of them have personal meaning. Egon, Pablo, Pansy and Wormy (a pet snake) are all real deceased pets. Cisco the dead tarantula, Balthazar the millipede, Windy, my pet poodle, Pancake, a degu which belongs to the film’s editor, Hanratty, a rat based on the film’s wardrobe stylist, and Killer. We tried to make sure that the gravestones said as much about the owners as the pets themselves, so even though Rodney is the only character in the film, he’s surrounded by a lot of other eccentrics.”