The characters in Light From Light might be searching for paranormal activity, but the film isn’t out to scare anyone. Director Paul Harrill probes at the ghost story genre from a spiritual angle while indirectly paying homage to its horror origins. He stages certain scenes with an eye for fear, such as when a woman stalks an empty house alone with only a flashlight to guide her path. Yet there are no jump scares or spooky specters lingering in the background to freak out unsuspecting viewers. Light From Light concerns ghost hunting, but Harrill characterizes the process in practical, mundane terms; it’s the emotional implications of the endeavor that interest him. Trying to contact the dead inevitably means confronting the grief left behind.
The grief in question primarily belongs to Richard (Jim Gaffigan), a recent widower who believes his wife still resides in their house. When his priest hears Sheila (Marin Ireland) on the radio discussing her background in paranormal investigation, he reaches out to see if she can help Richard through this difficult time. It’s important to note that Sheila and Richard are neither true believers nor staunch skeptics. Richard wants it to be his departed wife who controls the flickering lights in his bedroom or moves his keys across the table, but he isn’t entirely convinced of that explanation. Similarly, Sheila might have access to ghost hunting equipment and a history of minor supernatural activity, but she approaches the gig like a pragmatic professional, not a raving fanatic. “People think ghosts are scary. I think it’d be wonderful if they were real,” Richard tells Sheila late at night. That level of grounded optimism dictates the action.
In Light From Light, ghosts are really just a way for Harrill to examine loneliness. Sheila has built an isolated, hyper-controlled life for herself following years of implied heartbreak and disappointments. She projects her anxieties about pain onto her high-school-aged son, Owen (Josh Wiggins), who has more or less embraced his single mother’s worldview, i.e. he punts on dating a classmate (Atheena Frizzell) because, as he tells her, “What’s the point of getting together if you already know it’s going to end?” Meanwhile, Richard has only just begun to build up emotional walls following his wife’s death and the unresolved questions surrounding her potential infidelity. Emotional seclusion touches every aspect of Light From Light, from Ireland and Gaffigan’s affecting performances—defined by their stoic, reserved visages that transparently mask bone-deep ache—to Harrill’s pillow shots of placid Tennessee that suggest remoteness as much as beauty. Sheila’s constant refrain during her inspection, “If you wish to communicate, let yourself be known,” should be received literally.
While the contemplative tone and measured pacing are definitely features instead of bugs, Light Of Light is so anodyne at times that it borders on inert. Harrill is poignantly, sensitively attuned to the emotional states of his characters. Yet it often feels like that’s the only thing being offered in Light From Light, which hits the same note repeatedly—a problem, even when the note is haunting and it’s being struck for just 82 minutes. Still, Harrill concludes his film with a final gesture of otherworldly grace. It’s a moment that intimates flesh and spirit are forever intertwined, and that the dead only endure in the world of the living to provide a measure of comfort to those they’ve left behind.