Cast: Kate Ashfield, Steven Waddington, Natasha Connor, Hannah Clifford, Martin Compston
Running time: 86mins
The lowdown: England, 1974, and one Yorkshire family has more to worry about than the energy crisis, rising unemployment and Noel Edmonds hosting Top of the Pops. Their new council house home is host to a violent poltergeist known as “The Black Monk” and none of them are safe, particularly not the teenage daughter. This modest, but unnerving British horror, reportedly based on a true story, is a natural born chiller.
The full verdict: We Brits are good at ghost stories, probably to do with a history written in blood and our dramatically bleak landscapes.
When The Lights Went Out is a solid addition to our ghostly gallery, drawing upon the affective but low-fi scares of Ghostwatch or The Stone Tapes for well-sustained tension.
Based the reportedly true story of The Black Monk of Pontefract haunting that plagued a family in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, this casts Kate Ashfield and Steven Waddington as the unlucky couple who move into the haunted house with their teenage daughter.
From the very first night it’s apparent there is a spectral squatter in the end of terrace, with bumps in the night, and morning and afternoon growing ever more violent.
Writer director Pat Holden (who claims the real events occurred to a family member) captures the look and feel of ‘70s’ working class life: the hair salons, working men’s clubs, brown wallpaper and avocado kitchen sets.
Shooting with zero fuss, he knows just when to get a jump from a loud noise, swinging lamp, or moving furniture, depicting the haunting with a documentary feel.
He also spends times with the characters, eliciting ego-free performances from Ashfield and Waddington as a couple who love each other, but may not like each other, and are not above hitting their daughter when the going gets tough.
Even more impressive is his work with newcomers Connor and Clifford as the daughter and her oddball best friend, their naturalistic performances the emotional core of the film and a bathroom blackout scene with the two girls the film’s horror highlight.
A trip to a rundown estate the family would be next sent to answers the “why-not-just-move” question, and a third act exorcism scene manages something different by mixing in black wit and staunch Northern resilience .
Only a climactic horror lightshow showing the Black Monk in all his CGI-glory spoils the show, containing none of the slow-burn dread Holden has hitherto brought and confusing earlier events.
Luckily, this is the only major gremlin in the works of this Pontefract Paranormal Activity.
This review originally published on skymovies.com