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British Film Review - When The Lights Went Out
Based on the true events of Britain's most famous and horrifying haunting, WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT is the story of a down-to-earth Yorkshire family and the malevolent spirit who turns their existence upside down. Set in the 1970s, the Maynard family and their teenage daughter Sally move into their dream home in a small town in the North-West of England, only to realise that it isn’t so perfect after all. There is a presence living amongst them who is set to disturbingly disrupt their lives. Len and Jenny struggle to keep the already-fragile family together under the ghost's onslaught, as sinister echoes from the distant past start to reveal its true, sordid nature. And as things worsen, it becomes apparent that the young daughter Sally is the main focus of its attentions. All must come together to fight the evil spirit if she is to survive. Ominous, disturbing and deeply chilling, When The Lights Went Out is a terrifying British horror to make your blood curdle.
Being a film about the supernatural though When the Lights Went Out is noticeably lacking in scares or atmosphere though. As the film is based on a true story, you might have expected Holden to have adopted a more realist, documentary-esque feel to the film, but instead, by being set in the 70s it feels a little like Cemetery Junction. The feeling is not helped by the fact that most of the best bits in the film are infused with that classic northern humour. As good as that is, in a horror film such as this, it only serves to undermine any attempts to build up suspense and tension in the audience.
There is also little to no attempt to create a sense of unease. The camera is rarely used in a way that would make the audience feel uncomfortable, and for all its clichéd haunting experiences, there is a lack of clichéd horror troupes at play here.
Which is disappointing, as When the Lights Went Out had the making of an incredibly disturbing and unnerving cinematic experience. It’s not without its moments, but I was left wondering who this film will play to. If it is marketed as a horror film, aficionados won’t be impressed by its lack of scares, and if it is played to a slightly older audience, who might have vague recollections of the events, they will certainly enjoy the spot on period detail above the haunting.
The other issue affecting the atmosphere of the film is the characters reactions to the events around them. Being based on real events can be a blessing and a curse, and Holden seems to have tried to stick as closely as possible to depicting events as originally experienced. In doing so Holden portrays characters who far too late in the story, begin to be genuinely disturbed and worried about events, and this ultimately impacts on the audiences ability to get wrapped up in the mystery and scares.
As the film comes to its conclusion it takes on a bit of an investigative plot, as the truth about the ghost, and it’s haunting become clear. This in itself is far too interesting to be left so late in the story one wonders how much more suspense and mystery could have been created as the creators taken a bit more artistic license.
‘When the Lights Went Out’ is a good, entertaining film which lacks the genuine horror or scares of genre classics, but is helped by strong performances and period detail, as well as an interesting and disturbing final act.
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