‘When The Lights Went Out’ is a low budget independent British horror movie. Based on the Yorkshire legend of ‘The Black Monk of Pontefract’ and set in 1974, the film follows a working class family as their new house becomes the centre of increasingly violent poltergeist activity.
As horror fans, we are frequently told that the low budget offering we are watching is ‘based on a true story’; we accept it as being a hackneyed marketing ploy to add credence to whatever is projected onto the screen. ‘When The Lights Went Out’ also uses this technique but in this instance there is an interesting additional factor – the film’s director, Pat Holden, is the real-life nephew of the family portrayed in the film. Now you are entitled to your own opinion here and it would be unfair of me to prejudice anyone’s view of the film by voicing mine here, but it is certainly an interesting footnote in the film’s production.
The cast is small and performances are solid; especially worthy of note is newcomer Natasha Connor as Sally Maynard, the family’s daughter who becomes the focal point of the poltergeist’s attentions. Her portrayal moves from a young girl in danger of going off the rails to one who is terrified and terrorized; she is vulnerable and raw when necessary, obnoxious when required, and impressive throughout. A successful screen career beckons for the youngster.
The film itself is interesting and enjoyable. It runs at a particularly brief 85 minutes, and it feels even shorter but, given the film’s small focus, this is perfectly fine. There are a number of set pieces that work well and develop a creepy atmosphere, especially in the film’s earlier stages; the back story of the haunting itself apparently has pedophilia undertones and whilst these are sensitively handled, they do lend Sally’s initial encounters with the poltergeist an uncomfortably creepy air. As events proceed the haunting becomes more and more violent, leading the initially skeptical family to seek help from their local priest in the form of an exorcism.
The film does a good job with its limited resources. As well as strong performances from the cast, the special effects are effective, and the film creates a surprisingly authentic picture of Yorkshire in the 1970s. The film’s biggest problem is that it simply isn’t scary. The atmosphere is well developed but, aside from one memorable moment in a coal store, there is no pay off for this. I suspect this comes from the director’s attachment to the subject matter and I wonder if an adherence to the actual story has meant that the more frightening and horrific aspects of it have been toned down; whilst not a movie for gorehounds, I genuinely did expect more scares from a film in this sub-genre.
I enjoyed ‘When The Lights Went Out’. With a limited budget, the film creates a good sense of atmosphere, has quality special effects, and strong performances. The director does a decent job of keeping the film moving, and the more insidious aspects of the haunting are sensitively handled. If you are willing to overlook the lack of scares, then you will find a heartfelt and earnest little movie that is well worth a look. If nothing else, catch it for a strong central performance from young Natasha Connor, an actress with a bright future.
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