Alex (Katreeva Phillips, The 13th of Never, The Universe Holographic) has returned home for her father Aurthur’s (John Francis McCullagh, The Dead Hand, Stok Stalk Stock) funeral. The only problem is she’s two days late, which her sister Liz (Madison Calhoun, 12 Mighty Orphans) takes great delight in pointing out. It seems there’s been bad blood between them at least since she left Texas for a job with a magazine in New York and didn’t tell anyone until after she got there.
When she goes to his house she finds his cassette player and some tapes dated 1978 containing his interview with a man named Mario (Billy Blair, Bull Shark, Cherokee Creek) who claimed to have seen ghost lights that were responsible for people disappearing. With her editor pressuring her for a story she decides to follow up on this both to keep him happy and to find closure over her father’s death.
Writer/director Timothy Stevens (A Cowboy Christmas with Bob Terry, Let’Er Buck) gets things off to an extremely slow and talky start. Alex argues with her sister over the phone from the back of a cab. When she listens to the tape her father left we see what she’s hearing, but it’s just black and white footage of the two men sitting talking about the ghost lights and a montage of still photos.
Ideally, this conversation would set the rest of The Ghost Lights up, giving Alex a reason to follow up on a nearly fifty-year-old interview and giving the viewer a sense of dread as to what she’ll find. But the discussion is so low key both men sound bored rather than scared or even interested. It makes for a tedious first half hour.
Around the forty-minute mark, The Ghost Lights starts to show a bit of life when Alex notices a sinister-looking man (Timothy Stevens) dressed in black and driving a vintage Thunderbird following her. This creates a link back to Mario’s story and does somewhat nudge the film into X-Files territory. But despite an attempt to create a menacing atmosphere the film never really takes off.
“This film too is about loss and the inevitable regret that follows. We wish we could go back, say something we always meant to say but never made the time, pay attention when we were too self-obsessed to notice or make a different decision before it was too late. The Ghost Lights seeks to explore the darkness of this guilt and possibilities of reconciliation, even across time itself.”Timothy Stevens
This is probably because The Ghost Lights is never sure just what kind of a film it wants to be. Like another recent Terror Films release, I Dream of a Psychopomp, the focus here is as much if not more on the themes of death and loss as it is on scares. That film however tied its themes into the genre and made its stories work. Here, apart from the final scene, they’re extraneous. The tapes could have contained a conventional missing person story or one about political corruption for all the difference it makes for the rest of the film.
Stevens needed to focus a bit more on The Ghost Lights genre element for the film to succeed. The basic premise is intriguing but the way the story is told it’s never really scary or all that interesting. And by the time the credits roll, we still don’t know what the lights are or why the men in black are so interested in them. We’re not even sure who they are for that matter.
Terror Films will release The Ghost Lights to Digital on August 26 followed by the Terror Films YouTube Channel on September 2nd and Kings of Horror on Sep 9th. You can check the Terror Films website for more information. FilmTagger can also suggest some similar films for your viewing pleasure.