Truth is often stranger and more unsettling than fiction, a fact which adds an extra chill to When the Lights Went Out (2012), the new British horror courtesy of writer/director Pat Holden. Based around what is considered to be one of Britain’s most famous cases of supernatural phenomena, Holden’s latest is made all the more disturbing due to its possible foundation in reality. The Maynard family, Len (Steven Waddington), Jenny (Kate Ashfield) and 13-year-old Sally (Tasha Connor) move to a small town in Yorkshire. Initially Sally finds it hard to adjust to their new life – though her parents see this as typical teenage reticence.
Even after Sally experiences inexplicable occurrences in her bedroom her parents dismiss them, believing that their daughter is just taking time adjusting to her new life. Not until Len and Jenny come up against the supernatural forces themselves, do they realise something really is wrong and action has to be taken before it’s too late.
This harrowing tale of one of the worst examples of poltergeist activity in British history can be approached from two angles. As a haunted house film, its use of darkened corridors, banging doors and moonlit fields surrounded by trees rustled with sudden gusts of wind, lend the proceedings an authentically creepy ambience. When the Lights Went Out’s use of an average family as the central focus of the poltergeist activity also works in its favour by giving the viewer something tangible to relate to.
From another standpoint, the film’s exposition of the state of Britain during the early years of the 1970’s is equally disturbing. The country was constantly battling for some semblance of normality during this darkened, strike ridden period – quite literally when the lights often went out, a narrative thread whose potential is exploited to the film’s sinister advantage. The visualisation of the young couple’s constant struggle for a better life heightens the viewers sympathy with them when the onslaught of the evil spirits upon their family starts in earnest.
Waddington and Ashfield are wonderful as the mystified parents distraught by their predicament, whilst Connor is astounding in the role of the young girl at the centre of the supernatural maelstrom. Whilst the story’s truth may be debatable, the Maynard family were obviously convinced, and after watching When the Lights Went Out you may just believe it too.