August 9, 2020

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'Ghost story' relies on silence, not screams

Light From Light a quiet drama with a subdued message

Grasshopper Films</p><p>Josh Wiggins in Light From Light.</p>

Grasshopper Films

Josh Wiggins in Light From Light.

If you love ghost stories and — perhaps owing to the traumatic life experience of growing up Catholic — especially love ghost stories that have vague religious connotations, you will really love Light from Light, a non-ghost-story ghost story written and directed by Paul Harrill.

The title is taken from the Nicene Creed, a section that refers to Jesus Christ as "God from God, Light from Light," and whose ultimate meaning is up for interpretation, kind of like this film.

Light From Light follows Sheila (Tony nominee Marin Ireland of The Irishman), a part-time paranormal researcher-slash-airport car rental employee who takes on the case of Richard Barnes (Jim Gaffigan, best known for his standup comedy). We learn that Barnes’ wife died in a plane crash, and he believes he is haunted by her ghost.

You’re probably reading this and wondering, well, is he? Is he being haunted by the ghost of his dead wife? Honestly, who can say?

Grasshopper Films</p><p>Atheena Frizzell, left, and Josh Wiggins aren’t boyfriend-girlfriend.</p>

Grasshopper Films

Atheena Frizzell, left, and Josh Wiggins aren’t boyfriend-girlfriend.

Whether or not that ambivalence is OK with you will likely speak to whether or not you’ll enjoy watching this quiet character study.

Besides Sheila and Richard and Richard’s Dead Ghost Wife, there’s also a B-plot involving Sheila’s son Owen (the extremely cute and non-threatening Josh Wiggins) and his friend who is a girl but not his girlfriend, played by Atheena Frizzell.

But that’s about as clear a plot summary as can be devised, because things don’t really happen in Light From Light.

Sure, there’s a dynamic action sequence involving an anaphylactic reaction to a wasp sting and one very slow hike. Yes, at one point, some lights flickered. And near the end, a character reads an excerpt from Anna Karenina.

The rest — the majority — of Light from Light is philosophical conversation, existential crises and a lot of silence.

Grasshopper Films</p><p>Marin Ireland, left, and Jim Gaffigan star in Light From Light, streaming on Cinematheque at Home until June 12.</p>

Grasshopper Films

Marin Ireland, left, and Jim Gaffigan star in Light From Light, streaming on Cinematheque at Home until June 12.

Sheila and Richard seem to know they aren’t dealing with a ghost, but with grief… or do they? Owen isn’t wrestling with a crush, and the question isn’t will they or won’t they, the question is: is it worth it? If everything ends, is anything worth beginning?

As slow as the viewing experience is, it’s engaging and compelling thanks to the strong cast, all of whom give refreshingly specific and precise performances. Ireland is especially good, but that’s no surprise to anyone who has had the chance to see her onstage.

The surprise here is how good all the performances are across the board, and how chaotically balanced and aligned they all are. All four leads display immense restraint in their roles, their feelings indicated by small movements and subtle language cues. If you’re a fan of well-crafted performances, the acting alone in Light From Light is deeply gratifying to witness.

The story, on the other hand, is a little… oblique. It’s a beautiful script that is well-directed — but the point? That’s harder to find.

It’s not dissimilar to watching something like Carnivàle, the gorgeous early HBO series where everything was set up at the slowest possible pace and absolutely nothing ever paid off.

If something like that excites you, and not understanding doesn’t frustrate you, Light From Light might just be your kind of ghost story.

Frances.Koncan@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @franceskoncan

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