Today: February 21, 2024
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When the Lights Went Out

By – Edward Boff – Guillermo Del Toro once said that all the best ghost stories have a note of melancholy to them.

By – Edward Boff

Guillermo Del Toro once said that all the
best ghost stories have a note of melancholy to them.
One of this movie’s
problems is that it’s bloody miserable!

Set
in Yorkshire in 1974, the story follows the Maynard family – dad Len (Steven Waddington), mum Jenny (Kate Ashfield) and daughter Sally (Tasha Connor) – as they move
into a new house. Almost immediately they realise there’s some sort of
presence at work which takes the form of shocking acts of poltergeist
activity. As each member of the family tries to deal with it in their own
way, it seems that this haunting has a personal interest in young Sally but for
what purpose?

Let’s
get When The Lights Went Out main strength out the way first; its
sense of period. From the costumes, production design and much of the
cinematography, this film just screams “It’s the ‘70s”! The
story is grounded, very much, in Ken Loach country, giving the film much of its
strong air of authenticity (which is good, because this one pretty strongly
plays the “Based on a True Story” card from the word go.).

That
comparison to Ken Loach though brings us to the first big problem with this
movie. Loach has the knack
of crafting very flawed, human, but likeable characters; this movie, gets the
first two right, but the last… Pretty much everyone is grim, rude and
generally unlikeable from the beginning to the end. It’s a poor sign that both parents
have turns at slapping Sally and never really offer much of an apology for
it.

Worse,
the characters don’t really improve or grow as the story goes on nor do we get
a sense of whether the situation is forcing them to pull together or is driving
them apart. In fact, there
are no real satisfactory character arcs; they’re all as unpleasant at the start
as they are at the end with father Len, in particular, engaging in morally
dubious action to get help later on. Sally
does get a better storyline about a blossoming friendship at school but this is
cut short with no real resolution. The
movie tries to correct this with an awkward montage towards the end suggesting
all the leftover character threads were tied up off-screen but this just plain
doesn’t work.

But
enough of the kitchen sink drama; how does the ghost story aspect hold
up? Not great really. Interestingly, this is somewhat based
on a true account of a supposed haunting (Google “The Black Monk of
Pontefract” to find out more), which the director Pat
Holden
‘s family were involved with. The thing is, looking
at the reports of the “real” case, it suggests a far better storyline
than what we get here.

For
a start, the film is inconsistent on how it views the haunting. Sally starts off believing in it and
being afraid of it most strongly but before long she’s suddenly making friends
with one of the spirits like it’s bloody Casper!
The parents go through a phase where they view the haunting like it’s no more
than a minor inconvenience, which doesn’t help the tension and mood at
all. The movie fails to properly build a proper sense of atmosphere and
the realistic segments are so grim, it’s almost a relief when the supernatural
turns up.

In
terms of scares, the ball’s dropped here too. They’re not well-paced, with some
major poltergeist stuff happening so early on there’s little sense of
escalation. Also, the
frights aren’t so much telegraphed as delivered by high-speed broadband so
you’ll see them coming for miles and they are somewhat repetitive and
derivative. The third time it pulls the “let’s do something creepy
with a ‘70’s toy” thing, you’ll really feel your patience wear thin,
especially since Paranormal Activity 3 did something similar with ‘80s toys
much better. There is at least one pretty clever scare involving
decorating…which the film then spoils by having a character come in just to
point out how weird it is, like we couldn’t realise that ourselves!

Worse
is the way the film’s plotted. Most
of the scares and drama scenes are just awkward little vignettes, very few of
which link together, meaning that there’s not much of a satisfactory plot, just
a series of unrelated events. All this is compounded in a terrible double
ending that’s not only structurally bad but also manages to be both
anticlimactic and unbelievably silly at the same time!

Touted
as Kes meets Poltergeist, When
The Lights Went Out
fails
both films. It fails as a kitchen sink drama since there’s little real
drama and no characters really change. The ghost story isn’t scary and
has a climax that borders on that of Jan de Bont’s disastrous remake of The
Haunting
in the “you’ve gotta be f***ing kidding”
stakes! If you really are in the mood for a tale of a council house
family versus the supernatural, Ghostwatch was recently re-released
on DVD, that’d be far cheaper than a ticket to see When
The Lights Went Out
.

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The Cabin In The Woods

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