Film Reviews

The Substitute

The fifth anniversary of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, which took place in York from 5th-8th November 2015, saw a three hundred-strong list of short films screened to eager audiences across fifteen of the city’s finest venues.

Jim Poyner Photography, The York Photographer, Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2015, ASFF,

Photo Credit – Jim Poyner, courtesy of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (2015)

A definite highlight of the festival’s ‘thriller’ subsection, and arguably the event as a whole, was a short by the name of ‘The Substitute’. Directed by Nathan Hughes-Berry, this twenty two minute short incorporated intriguing cinematography and a unique plot to create a sense of inescapable and ever-increasing tension.

‘The Substitute’, as the title suggests, depicts the story of a newly qualified woman’s first job as a substitute teacher in a school. What initially appears as a relatively innocuous account of first-day jitters as our protagonist adjusts to her new surroundings, soon turns into what is, at times, a deeply unsettling psychological power-play.


Photo Credit – Nathan Hughes-Berry, The Substitute courtesy of Boorufe Films/Askja Films and Aesthetica Short Film Festival.

Technically, all aspects of ‘The Substitute’ are geared towards the maintenance of suspense. The film’s cinematography, particularly the use of unconventional camera angles and character close-ups, adds to an already present feeling of uncertainty and dread. The film’s script is deliberately understated as a means of executing the story’s slow-burn while still supporting and maintaining the general feeling of unease. While our protagonist is not always portrayed as the most sympathetic of characters, the realistic nature of the performance allows for an engaging experience – and one which makes the final scene even more shocking.

This, alongside such a thoroughly original plot, is what makes ‘The Substitute’ such a stand-out performer at this year’s festival. In just over twenty minutes, this film demonstrated how the short film format can be used to produce a tense and unnerving thriller worthy of the utmost recognition.