Ordinarily, psychics and “paranormal investigators” are con artists by definition, because obviously. However, Sheila is different. For one thing, she does not accept any fees for her services. Furthermore, she readily admits she is not even sure she has any psychic abilities. Nevertheless, she will try to help a grieving widower find some closure, perhaps by contacting his deceased wife’s ghost in Paul Harrill’s Light from Light, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Sheila’s real job is working behind the counter of an airport car rental agency. She has some experience investigating hauntings, but all the gear belonged to her very ex-boyfriend. Nevertheless, she agrees to get back into the game when asked by the kindly Father Martin. He heard her on the radio discussing the possibly predictive dreams she had during childhood and concluded she might be able to help the recently widowed Richard.
After begging and borrowing sensors and cameras, Sheila presses her son Owen into duty as her assistant, but she gets his not-quite-girlfriend Lucy as a bonus volunteer. Together they wire up Richard’s converted country house on edge of the Smoky Mountains, where odd things have been afoot, like flickering lights and objects moving of their own accord. The three not-really-Ghostbusters genuinely hope they can help the earnest fishery warden, but the initial findings will be ambiguous—and complicated.
Frankly, Light is not exactly a supernatural genre film, at least not in a conventional sense, but the ghostly plot points ultimately give it a powerful, bittersweet kick. Yet, minute-by-minute and scene-for-scene, Harrill’s main focus are the fleeting connections humans manage to forge. Every flesh-and-blood character in Light is a good person, whom we come to care about quite a bit. That very definitely includes Father Martin, possibly the most sympathetic man of the cloth to appear on-screen in years. Harrill also penned one of the most touching, yet realistic and grounded mother-son relationships you will see on film in many a blood moon.
Marin Ireland invests the working-class Sheila with genuine grace and dignity. She forges ambiguously poignant chemistry with Richard, played by Jim Gaffigan in what might be his career-best work. It is a quiet and restrained performance, but he makes the widower’s pain and confusion immediately palpable. Atheena Frizzell is shockingly touching as lovesick Lucy, while David Cale gives it all a tinge of compassionate gravitas as Father Martin.
Light is a big, muddy river of a film. It is quiet, but it runs deep. It also looks terrific, thanks to Greta Zozula’s striking cinematography, which captures the mysterious lushness of the Smokies. It is sort of like a rural Personal Shopper, but it is subtler and more humanistic. Very highly recommended, Light from Light screens again this afternoon (1/31) and tomorrow (2/1) in Park City and Saturday (2/2) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.