PLOT: A quintet of dopey young twenty-somethings resort to the woods to play a hide-and-seek type of game called NIGHTLIGHT. What emerges from the darkness, however, is no laughing matter.
REVIEW: With each notching a solo feature under their belts back in 2004, filmmakers Scott Beck (UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS) and Bryan Woods (FOR ALWAYS) joined forces in 2006 to write and direct the indie-horror effort THE BRIDE WORE BLOOD. Now, more than a decade later, the two gents have once again recombined their vision to follow-up with NIGHTLIGHT, a low-wattage output of insipid shaky-cam clichés and vertiginous first-person framing. Amateurish on almost every imaginable front, what starts off as a mildly amusing and playful romp through the woods ends up as a frustratingly tiresome muddle of no-budget hokum. Really, outside of a few nubile lasses illuminating the screen, NIGHTLIGHT is a dim-bulb indeed!
Bookending the story is a pair of direct-address webcam feeds, where we meet a suicidally depressed teenager named Ethan (Kyle Fain). As we open, Ethan declares he's soon planning to kill himself out in the Covington woods, primarily due to being romantically jilted by a cute blonde named Robin (Shelby Young). We then cut to said woods, where, in addition to Robin, we rendezvous with a quartet of typically puerile, booze and sex-starved coeds - Chris (Carter Jenkins), Ben (Mitch Hewer), Nia (Chloe Bridges) and Amelia (Taylor Murphy) - as they strike up a "flashlight" game called Nightlight. Here's the gist of the game. One person is blindfolded and left with a camera. After a few minutes, the person unwraps their eyeballs, picks up the camera and goes wandering into the dark and windy woods to find their hidden comrades. If and when they cannot do so, they simply have to yell out the word "nightlight" and soon a jarring bombardment of flash-beams washes over them. Really f*cking frightening, right? Yeah, maybe if you're six!
It's a real bummer, because NIGHTLIGHT had the potential to showcase a fun, original game on which to found its horrific conceit. Alas, the opportunity is squandered when the movie not only fails to make the game scary or even all that interesting, but eventually devolves into another homemade possession movie. You see, it turns out the area of woods the kiddies are fooling around in happens to be a haunted graveyard of the suicidal. Apparently, Covington is a popular place for unpopular depressives to off themselves. And of course, as Nia unwittingly ambles through the brambles and underbrush, she discovers a cavalcade of crosses and headstone crucifixes meant to signify the lost souls of the dead. As she stumbles over this find, the others in the group begin to act erratically or disappear altogether. This leads to long stretches of inert torpor, with nothing of note happening at all. Shaky, spot-lit camera work peering off into the darkness can only conjure so much suspense, and when the tension fades (rather early on), the movie actually becomes quite a chore to endure.
Watching the film twice, both times I lost significant interest at around the halfway point. Up until then it's mildly bearable - the game has promise, the girls are cute to look at, the guys fire a humorous collegiate barb or two, etc. But once Robin takes her turn to go seek the hidden, we soon learn she too battles severe depression and once considered killing herself. While decently delivered (Shelby is the standout here), she's given a long, overwrought monologue that really saps whatever energy the movie had leading up to it. Then, in an attempt to tie up the opening and closing shots...we're supposed to glean that Robin has been possessed or influenced by Ethan's suicidal anger? Really? But what then of the others? How do they becomes gorily imperiled? The ghosts of others who killed themselves? Is it all Ethan's doing? What gives?!? For a movie this spare and simplistic, there's zero reason this needs to be so unclear.
Look, either way you charge it, NIGHTLIGHT yields little more than a kilowatt-amateur-hour. If you told me the entire film was shot over the course of one night with a handful of friends, I'd believe it. In fact, I'd believe that more than anything in the actual narrative. It's a sleight, one-note game of hide-and-seek in the woods with flashlights. That's about it. Even if the flick starts with a promising premise of a game-based horror tale, it fails to deliver, and eventually peters out by the 40-minute mark or so. After that, there's a solid 30 minutes of unwatchable boredom that feels like every other shaky-cam-in-the-woods-at-night movie we've seen in the last decade or so. Then, believe it or not, NIGHTLIGHT acutally finds a surge in the last ten minutes, where, even if a bit cryptic, we're at least introduced to a somewhat new setting and different lighting scheme (an underground lair with ceiling-bulbs). Unfortunately, by then it's far too late to save face or at all redeem the preceding slog. So, as aptly titled, if you're still afraid of the dark and need a NIGHTLIGHT to sleep, go ahead and turn this one one. Otherwise, save your energy and keep this sucker unplugged!