When the Lights Went Out

Director: Pat Holden (2012)
Starring: Kate Ashfield, Tasha Connor, Steven Waddington
Find it: IMDB

The true story of England's most prolific poltergeist haunting, except for the bit where it was debunked and proven not to have happened. Understandably, no-one mentions that part. Myself, I would have put it just before the end credits, like a big 'fuck you' to the audience, which is why I am not a filmmaker.

Whether it happened or not (it didn't), When the Lights Went Out tells the story of one family's torment at the (invisible) hands of a malevolent spirit living in their new home. As it takes a shine to daughter Sally (Connor) Mum (Ashfield) and Dad (Waddington) must do everything they can to survive on a working-class budget. Which seems to consist mostly of thumping poor Sally around the chops whenever the ghost does anything wrong. Not in an abusive NSPCC kind of way, you understand, but in a working class parents of the 1970s manner that was apparently fine back then. Mind you, a lot of things were 'fine' back then, if you ask Rolf Harris or Jimmy Savile. Life on Mars could have been a very different television programme if Sam Tyler had waited for Operation Yewtree before being twatted by that car*. What I'm saying is that 1970s England was a fuck-awful time and place to be a child.

The best reason to watch When the Lights Went Out is for that depiction of retro England. A traditional haunted house movie set in 70s Yorkshire, it courts amusement by replaying hoary old spook cliches from a very British, working class perspective. There's something to be said for a horror film in which one of the main scare sequences is seeing a possessed slinky pop down the stairs towards our terrified heroine. Or poor Kate Ashfield's wallpapering mishap. As a result, a lot of the shocks fall flat and most of it is more comical than scary, but the unusal setup is appreciated. It looks great and is well-acted - particularly by its young leading lady.

Those hoping for genuine scares from When the Lights Went Out will be disappointed. It's unintentionally funny where it should have been scary and not even brave enough to do anything original with its debunked 'true' story. After watching I went straight to sleep last night, after the lights went out. It's not even spooky enough to warrant a second thought, let alone leaving the lights on.

*Note to self, send idea for Life on Mars sequel to BBC.

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