The Limbo Cafe is written, directed and produced by Jason Burke (Mind Bender, author of Field of Madness). It’s a horror short that was a labor of love. That much is obvious.
The Limbo Cafe centers around protagonist Atria Romero. She enters The Limbo Cafe looking haggard, tired and in need of help. Thankfully, a quirky, seemingly charming barista is on hand to help Atria. Stories are swapped, small talk is had. But something lurks in the bowels of this cafe… something not quite right. So, this 19 minutes short goes…
The first half of this short is basically introducing the two main characters. The lighting of these shots is particularly well done. It’s warm and cozy and puts the viewer at ease. There’s a thunderstorm outside, which makes this Limbo Cafe and its warm lightning all the more inviting. The juxtaposition to this are the score and sound effects. The sound of the storm is loud, and the occasional creak lets the unease of the outside world seep in. Of course, as the story progress, it becomes quite obvious that The Limbo Cafe is much more than the fake charms of its barista.
I enjoyed this short. To me, it’s obvious that Jason Burke has a love for horror. Even the intro sound from his logo for Nostalgic Nightmare Productions reminds me of The Exorcist theme. And according to Mark Kermode, pretty much the greatest and most respected British reviewer and critic of films in the UK, says, “The Exorcist is a work of art.” So, if Jason is indeed taking inspiration from such horrors as The Exorcist, then he is heading in the right direction when it comes to horror.
However, there are a few things I have an issue with in The Limbo Cafe. Sound levels and the delivery of dialogue sometimes sounded very theatrical or like the actors were simply reading lines directly from scripts. But those issues come down to budget and time, in my opinion. If you’ve ever worked on a short with a budget funded by yourself with next to no time to film it, then you’ll no doubt know that there are sometimes things you just have to run with. Sometimes, there isn’t room for that extra take, or you only have your actors for another hour. This is the nature of the film industry. But it’s particularly tricky for shorts on a shoe-string budget. I’ve worked on features and shorts myself, so I fully understand the weight of production. So, instead of focusing on negatives, I’ve decided to concentrate here on what really worked in this short.
I mentioned before, but I wanted to mention it again. The lighting in The Limbo Cafe is good. It’s something you can’t afford to get wrong. That and sound are integral. Your image can be shaky, out of focus even. But if your lighting and sound are good, then you can often get away with a bad image… not that there is any of that here. I thought the script was fun. At first, it can seem like nothing is happening. The choice to give ample time to the characters just chatting was brave. It pays off in the end. But the viewer will have to stick with it. Because, apart from the initial hook, the first half is character development with dialogue and not much else physically happens. However, a lot is happening character-wise.
The actresses themselves were stronger in certain shots than others, and, for the most part, their acting was decent. The camera work got a little creative, rather than just sticking with your standard, over-the-shoulder, two-shot and reverse with dialogue. There are a few shots from near the ceiling looking down, and a couple looking up. The voyeuristic look of changing angles and the depictions of the viewer floating in the sky is not natural. So, using these techniques was a great idea. And I applaud The Limbo Cafe’s creativity when it was being creative.
There is a lot to talk about here. The Limbo Cafe is not perfect and has a few issues. But even Spielberg says today that there are shots he wants to change from Indiana Jones. I do love the creativity, though. Jason Burke has used horror the way it should be used… creatively. The Limbo Cafe is a slow descent into the mind of a passionate, up-and-coming filmmaker. Give this man a budget, time and a horrific sandbox to play in, and who knows what he will come up with next.
I, for one, can’t wait to find out.