Sundance Film Review: ‘Light From Light’

A woman with past paranormal experiences investigates a widower's possible spirit visitations in this modest, ultimately poignant ghost story sans horror.

Paul Harrill
Marin Ireland, Jim Gaffigan, Josh Wiggins, Atheena Frizzell, David Cale.

1 hour 22 minutes

“Light from Light” is about a paranormal investigator who comes to the aid of a grieving widower possibly receiving messages from his late wife. Supernatural horror and bloodshed inevitably ensue — or would, in just about any other movie with that premise. In this movie, however, there are no jump scares, in fact no scares whatsoever, and the quiet “buildup” leads to an equally quiet resolution.

Neither thriller nor sentimental whimsy, Paul Harrill’s second feature (following 2014’s equally low-key “Something, Anything”) is a quietly matter-of-fact drama that utilizes a “haunting” story hook for non-religious yet affirming ends. Its micro-budget modesty of look and tone abet an ultimately quite moving impact, even if they may also limit commercial exposure.

Though probably not yet 35, Sheila (Marin Ireland) already has the wariness of someone who’s been disappointed enough in life to expect the remainder will be disappointing, too. She’s a single mom to a nice teenager, Owen (Josh Wiggins), even if he may have inherited a little too much of her emotional caution, as evidenced by his shyness around returning the obvious romantic interest of bestie classmate Lucy (Atheena Frizzell). Mother and son live in a nondescript condo in Knoxville, Tenn.; she pays the bills with a banal job at an airport car rental office.

Yet Sheila has a far-from-ordinary side she seems ambivalent about: Throughout her life, she’s had occasional paranormal experiences, including dreams of things that turn out to be very meaningful to near-strangers, and one possible spirit sighting. As a result, she has sometimes worked on a volunteer basis with groups investigating such phenomena. After she lets herself be interviewed for a podcast, she gets a call from a priest (David Cale) on behalf of a parishioner who thinks the wife who died in a plane crash last year may be trying to contact him.

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Richard (Jim Gaffigan) is no grief-addled nutcase, but an affable man who works at a local fish hatchery and still lives in the lovely farmhouse that was in his wife’s family for generations. There, he’s witnessed some minor yet inexplicable occurrences — flickering lights, keys that seem to have moved on their own — that he might or might not have imagined. He, like Sheila, is skeptic enough to accept a non-supernatural explanation, but also willing to entertain the possibility that some entity really is trying to communicate. After one night’s poking around with his permission gives her just enough reason to return, she comes back with helpmates Owen and Lucy, plus a ton of borrowed equipment to measure “cold spots” and other spirit indicators.

Very little happens in a conventional genre sense here, and the one crisis that arrives has nothing at all to do with ghosts. But there’s never a sense that Harrill is playing for time, or teasing our expectations. The well-acted and observed characters are revealing themselves to us all the while that the dead wife (or whatever) fails to. And once a manifestation of sorts does finally arrive, its subtlety is perfect in both conceptual and emotional terms.

The reliable Ireland is fine, and Gaffigan, who’s known for comedy, is excellent — as are the two juveniles. Greta Zozula’s cinematography has an attractive simplicity that stops short of stylized austerity, like all the well-thought-out design elements in this very small but rewardingly poignant film.

Sundance Film Review: 'Light From Light'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 31, 2019. Running time: 82 MIN.

Production: A Ley Line Entertainment presentation of a Sailor Bear production in association with Ten Acre Films. (Int'l sales: ICM, Los Angeles.) Producers: James M. Johnston, Kelly Williams, Toby Halbrooks, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele. Executive producers: Jonathan Duffy, David Lowery. Co-producers: Amy Hubbard, Michael Mobley.

Crew: Director, writer: Paul Harrill. Camera (color, HD): Greta Zozula. Editor: Courtney Ware. Music: Adam Granduciel, Jon Natchez.

With: Marin Ireland, Jim Gaffigan, Josh Wiggins, Atheena Frizzell, David Cale.

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