In Villain, Bella Ramsey Goes on a Wordless Mission of Death

For “Villain” director Sparky Tehnsuko, patience paid off. The London-based filmmaker’s willingness to wait for the release of his short film had the unexpected benefit of giving his lead actor, Bella Ramsey, time to considerably raise their profile — by landing the lead on The Last of Us.

At the time Tehnsuko was casting “Villain,” he was thrilled when a casting director raised the possibility of enlisting Ramsey as the lead. The actor was best known at the time for the 2020 film Resistance and for Game of Thrones, which shares plenty of DNA with Tehnsuko’s 10-minute fantasy epic.

Casting Bella Ramsey in ‘Villain’

“Bella was at the top of that list. And we said immediately, ‘If we can get Bella Ramsey in the film, then we want Bella Ramsey. And we’d seen Game of Thrones, obviously — we’d seen Resistance. And we just thought, yeah, that would be perfect,” Tehnsuko told MovieMaker. “So we reached out to Bella, sent the script, and they came back to us and said, ‘This sounds really fun, I’d love to do it.’

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The “Villain” team held plenty of Zoom meetings, because Covid lockdowns were in full effect in London at the time.

“And then the second lockdown was lifted. It was like, ‘Go, go go,'” Tehnsuko recalled.

But after shooting was complete, it was wait, wait, wait.

“The way that we managed to afford VFX was largely by saying to the company that agreed to do it, Midas VFX: ‘Take as long as you need, there’s going to be other projects that pay you better that you can prioritize. We can wait if we can pay less.’ And so it took about two years or so.”

But in those two years, something happened that was very good for “Villain”: Ramsey was cast as the lead in HBO’s The Last of Us, which raised both the star’s profile — and that of “Villain.”

Tehnsuko spoke to MovieMaker Saturday at the Indy Shorts festival in Indianapolis, where “Villain” was part of a “Big Names, Short Films” block that also included documentaries featuring CODA Oscar winner Troy Kotsur, Killers of the Flower Moon star Lily Gladstone, and the excellent directorial debut of Alden Ehrenreich, “Shadow Brother Sunday,” in which the Fair Play and Solo star also stars.

The star power extended beyond the “Big Names” block: Werewolves Within and This Is Us star Milana Vayntrub also traveled to Indiana to present her own engrossing directorial debut short, “Pickled Herring.”

So why did “Villain” need all those VFX? We don’t want to spoil anything, expect to say the results are impressive, and worth the wait. Despite the film’s overlap with some elements ofGame of Thrones, it is decidedly different in at least one way: “Villain” contains no dialogue.

“Villain” writer-director Sparky Tehnsuko.

The assured storytelling is even more streamlined than it is on the series based on George R.R. Martin’s books, because all of the exposition is visual. “Villain” begins with Ramsey’s unnamed character looking at a burning building with a dead woman inside (played by Ramsey’s real-life mother, Kate Ramsey). Our hero then turns toward a mountaintop that contains the source of the fire.

That mountaintop, we soon learn, is full of surprises — for more than one character in the film.

Are you hooked yet? We were. The film held us rapt for its efficient runtime.

“Villain” is now playing and is available for virtual viewing as part of IndyShorts, one of our 25 Coolest Film Festivals and 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee. It continues through Sunday.

Main image: Bella Ramsey in “Villain.”