Light From Light

Paul Harrill’s second feature, Light From Light (2019) is an even stronger, more assured work than his marvelous first feature Something, Anything (2014). The film played at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival where it received very positive reviews from both Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, and was picked up for distribution by Grasshopper Films.

Like Something, Anything, Light from Light is once again understated in its storytelling, with terrific performances by Marin Ireland and Jim Gaffigan. Ireland plays a character named Sheila, a car rental agent and part-time paranormal investigator who is asked by a minister to help a troubled parishioner, Richard, who fears he is being haunted by his deceased ex-wife.

Harrill uses the genre of the horror film (a ghost story) — only to undercut it completely. Although part of the film is spent investigating Richard’s possibly haunted house, the film is actually a character study. Richard might be the person haunted by a past relationship, but it turns out it is really Sheila who has closed herself off as a result of the past, and she is already laying the foundations for haunting her own son’s future. Sheila sees it as trying to protect him from being hurt, but, in actuality, she’s passing along her own sad and negative views of the world.

What is most striking about the film is Harrill’s highly nuanced script, in which everything resides under the surface and hardly anything is spoken. The subtext creates a dramatic tension that proves riveting, especially in a spellbinding 10-minute section later in the film, where the two main characters obliquely reveal themselves. It is an utterly masterful scene of writing, performance, and direction, which reveals Harrill’s incredible talents as a filmmaker.

Harrill’s simplicity is his strength. Light From Light is an ensemble piece. It focuses on the four main characters: Sheila and Richard, and Sheila’s son, Owen and his girlfriend Lucy. A lot of the story takes places in a few locations. Yet Harrill is able to create a powerful character study that has incredible depth and mystery. As he told Film Comment: “The deeper you get to know someone in real life, the more they also grow in their mystery to you—at least sometimes. It should be that way with fictional characters, too.” Harrill is interested in characters who struggle with their emotions, characters who are not good at emoting, yet, like in a Bresson film, we nevertheless get a sense of their inner struggles.

Light From Light is available for streaming on a number of platforms, including Amazon Prime.