“Everything here is haunted.”
Let’s get one thing straight, pal; I don’t scare easy. My dear old mum saw fit to that. Terrifying apparitions and nightmarish visions brought to life in our living room via the cathode ray horror box of our television, were as natural to my upbringing as Farley’s rusks and Johnson’s baby shampoo. Bless my mum. She made sure that I had the steely nerves of a blind lion tamer with his dick permanently out.
It wasn’t abuse. No, really, it wasn’t.
With all that (shall we say “training”?) in mind, I was more than adequately prepared to stare Nightlight straight in the eyes, and get all up in its shit. This movie is the tale of five friends who journey into a nearby woodland area for a night of flashlight games. As it happens, it’s a suicide hot spot, and legends prevail of dark, supernatural forces which inhabit the woods, preying on the souls of angst ridden teens. Our assembled throng of victim shaped flesh pouches include Robin (Shelby Young), Nia (Chloe Bridges), Amelia (Taylor Murphy), Chris (Carter Jenkins), Ben (Mitch Hewer), and Kramer (Bart). Kramer is a dog, by the way. Oh, and things go frighteningly, pants shittingly wrong. Obviously.
Initially, I was turned off by the prospect of this being another found-footage horror. Found-footage has, I think you’ll agree, become irksome. Despite it actually seeming quite logistically difficult, and therefore intrinsically more challenging to produce to a competent level, it’s a sub-genre I find to be quite lazy, and fraught with banality. But then Nightlight isn’t technically a found-footage movie. There’s no hand held camera here, and it wasn’t until I thought to myself “Why the hell are these chodes filming this?” that it became apparent that this movie is being told from the perspective of Robin’s flashlight itself. It’s a stroke of genius, actually. When the flashlight cuts out (which it frequently does), so does the picture, and the already heightened state of tension is given an extra layer of frantic energy which leaves no room for respite, nor from the stalking phantoms which appear and disappear with alarming regularity.
So, how do our aforementioned, budding murder-faces shape up? Well, every one of the central characters is ably played to the extreme by the young, and, relatively, inexperienced cast members, with each character, somewhat predictably, being the archetype we have come to expect from a “friends-get-butchered” movie. They’re all fairly transparent; the bookish but kinda hot Robin totally has a major throb-on for the Abercrombie and Fitch attired Ben, while bubble head Amelia is frantically trying to spurn the so-far-beyond-amorous-that-it’s-actually-coming-across-a-little-Coby-Bryant advances of pervert Chris. It’s only spoilt rich-bitch Nia who is particularly down played, with only one or two throw-away lines allowed to give away anything as to her background.
But more importantly; how does Nightlight fair in trying to get me to scream like I’ve just walked in on my parents having sex? Well, different things scare different people. For me, it’s what I call “perspective horror.” Phantasms, axe wielding harbingers of death, and other such horrors appearing in the foreground or background of a static shot (think The Exorcist III’s terrifying hospital corridor murder) will be guaranteed to shit me up faster than a bacon meme can go viral. I’ve never gotten used to it.
With this in mind, Nightlight induced that borderline level of hysteria I’d only previously experienced when watching It when I was far, far too young, or when I watched the last 10 minutes of REC on my own, in a house with bad wiring. There’s an abundance of perspective scares here, and on more than one occasion, I’d retreated to that special area in my mind usually reserved for when I’m so frightened that everything around me transmogrifies into a threat to my well-being. Horror convention, whilst not quite turned on its head, is tested here, and you won’t have to ponder whether that thing you saw moving in the background was just your imagination or not, because, spoilers, it wasn’t your imagination. That’s something moving in the background.
Nightlight is bound to draw a Blair Witch comparison or two (and not undeservedly) with its woodland setting, it’s teenage protagonists, and its mysterious rendezvous/focal point in the centre of the woods (in this instance, a church) shrouded in mythical clap-trap and hoo-hah. But this isn’t your regular, cheap jump scares horror movie. Ok, the plot and setting aren’t unfamiliar, but the dalliances and successive toying with established horror tropes, the all too familiar sounds of distant, tortured souls in the forest, and jarringly brief images of hooded demons (which are just conventional enough to illicit the correct response from the deepest, darkest depths of your imagination, but simple enough to look seamless, and utterly convincing) culminate in an all round decent, and satisfying horror with all the necessary ingredients to give us some indication of the delights still yet to come from the inventive writer/director combo of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. Kudos, gentlemen. Well played, indeed.
I tried my best, Mum. Don’t be ashamed of me.
P.S. Send new underwear.