Welcome to Usma [Christopher Sherwood, UK, 2020]

According to our presenter and guide for the day, Christopher Bleak, Usma is famous for four main things: race walking, a cracking outdoor gym, a lake full of eels and a spooky sculpture tour. Written and directed by Christopher Sherwood, this comic spoof on tourist promotional videos takes us on a tour of some beautiful scenery from the small Latvian village. Unfortunately, this is the film’s most notable charm as many of the jokes fall flat and a bizarre attempt at horror is more confusing than terrifying.

As the heavily intonated narration begins, the humour is such that it is unclear whether this is supposed to be serious or not. The narrator’s obsession with race walking, for example, is only rumbled by a clear attempt at slapstick where Christopher topples to the floor. For the rest of the film, we feel as though this is a private joke of which we are not a part. His gestures to couples swinging, his misinterpretation of an animal shaped hut and his exultation at every sign of small town mediocrity all smacks with a sense of ‘you had to be there’.

Before our time in Usma is up, the comedy is shaken with a pinch of horror. Sudden screams fill the air along with the clichéd tropes of the disembodied song of children and snow-covered graveyard. Rather than giving the whacky spoof the bit of edge it needs, this part of the short feels a bit tacked on and fairly pointless.

It is clear, however, that this film was certainly fun to make. Even though the audience might not be fully in on the joke, Christopher Bleak’s wiggling race walk and slightly ridiculous voice exudes a kind of childlike enjoyment that is pleasant to watch. And if nothing else, Welcome to Usma at least gives us some solid advice: don’t, under any circumstances, visit Usma.

'Welcome to Usma' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2020.

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