Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Last Light

2011
Dir. George Clarke

A maintenance man is called on to ensure an old derelict house – formerly a psychiatric hospital, no less - is securely boarded up after a reported break-in. On what is supposed to be his last day on the job, he experiences increasingly chilling occurrences. Initially believing that wayward kids are playing a prank on him, it soon becomes evident that something much more sinister is afoot…

The Last Light is director George Clarke’s third film and follows on from his low/no-budget gore-fests Battle of the Bone, (flesh hungry zombies descend on Belfast during the tumultuous ‘marching season’) and The Knackery (violent reality TV satire featuring genetically modified zombies picking off the contestants of a popular TV game show). In terms of tone and style, it couldn’t be more different and sees the indie filmmaker really mature as a storyteller, and in terms of technical expertise.

A much more atmospheric and creepy affair, his latest film is based on unsettling ‘true-life’ events from the history of his moody location: the reputedly haunted Cairndhu House, County Antrim. While writing the story Clarke visited the house with various mediums and members of the Paranormal Ulster investigative team to try and tease out untold stories from the place. Incorporating their findings into his script, Clarke wanted to recreate events that had taken place in the house. Whether or not you believe in the paranormal, there’s no denying that The Last Light still unravels as a moody, often effective and old fashioned haunted house yarn. Like all good haunted house movies will testify – the location is key and essentially a character in itself. Cairndhu House is rich with faded grandeur and creepy melancholy and is clearly a character Clarke cares deeply for. As locations in low budget horror flicks go – this one is truly convincing – and, if it’s sinister history to be believed – the real deal.



Inside the house events turn claustrophobic very quickly. Clarke utilises the early scenes to create a sense of unease and dread as Rob (Robert Render) explores the formidably dark confines of the house. The slow-burn approach is enhanced by odd and creepy sound effects and subtle glimpses (to begin with anyway) of ‘things’ skulking in the shadows and really toys with our fear of the dark. As atmospheric as it is, the plotting in the first act struggles to muster much momentum (it is essentially just Rob’s exploration of the house), and at times it is perhaps too dark and difficult to see what is happening onscreen. However the pace picks up when Rob’s wife Jo (Jo Lamont-Crawford) and her sister (Vivian Jamison) begin to worry about him and make their way to the house to find him.

Sturdy performances bolster the story in grounded realism. Rob’s wife (Lamont-Crawford, who picked up Best Supporting Actress at this year’s Yellow Fever Film Festival in Belfast) is convincingly sceptical but still reacts with practical hesitancy when she reaches the house. The kooky harbinger-of-doom sister is played with aplomb by Jamison, and as maintenance man Rob, Robert Render essentially carries the film. We see everything through his eyes and Render convinces as the initially happy go-lucky worker going about his daily routine and the eventually ground down, nervous wreck he becomes in the house.



Some breathtaking scenery of the Antrim coast features under the credits and Rob’s car journey there is reminiscent of Jack’s drive to the hotel in The Shining; the uneasy sense of isolation is nicely realised. Shades of sub-genres such as ‘hand held’ horror are swirled into the gloomy mix as Rob sometimes uses the camera on his phone to light his way and navigate through the almost tangible dark. For much of the time we’re plunged into the film seeing things firmly from his perspective, which heightens the tension and sense of foreboding. A couple of nicely timed and effective jump moments cut through the creepy atmosphere to shred at the nerves as we build to the disquieting climax

The Last Light is definitely one to watch alone in the dark on a stormy night.

Read more about the film and how it was made here.

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