Reviews Short Narrative

Light (2019) – 1 star

Director: Christopher Beauchamp

Writer: Christopher Beauchamp

Cast: Christopher Beauchamp, Josephine Beauchamp, Dylan Voss

Running time: 40mins

Something that is hard to explain as a critic, dealing in arbitrary 1-5 scores after a single viewing of a film, is that almost all independent filmmaking has an inherent value in its own right. Whether the end-product of that arduous creative process has resulted in a glowing four-and-a-half-star review of an otherworldly experimental feature, or a half-star savaging of an apparently aimless mess, the process of filmmaking should still be recognised and encouraged as an end in itself. Much like poetry, filmmaking can be cathartic, therapeutic, an exercise in soul-searching which can help artists make peace with some of life’s most traumatic and sorrowful events.

For that reason, I approach my evaluation of Christopher Beauchamp’s Light with an important caveat; while this film might not have an inherent worth to me, it is clearly a valuable learning experience for the young filmmaker coming to terms with an array of raw and complex emotions. What Beauchamp does do right is to invest a great deal of his personal pain in this film – his Grandmother, who was greatly influential in his decision to become a filmmaker, passed away around the time of Light’s production – lending his scenes as lead character Dan a brooding authenticity.

Indeed, Beauchamp’s own performance is without doubt the best thing about this production. He delivers his dialogue with a knowing restraint, presenting a man doing his best to put on a brave face in front of his friends after the recent loss of his Grandmother. Imitating life, Beauchamp mentions that his character’s Grandmother had believed on him, setting him on the path of chasing his dreams as a long-distance runner – meaning her departure leaves him rocked, even after he has realised those ambitions. Daniel’s arc sees him learn to live alongside his memories, something which feels heavily imbued with Beauchamp’s own emotional journey. This sincerity is the trait he must centre his future projects upon, if he is to build upon this one.

Unfortunately, he must also work hard to get the basics right. The film’s message is heavily undermined by a number of technical gaffes which many viewers will struggle to move beyond. For example, the make-up applied to Beauchamp’s supposedly ‘weathered’ protagonist is little short of comical. While in daily life, he might arguably be blessed with a youthful face that does not betray his real age, his team’s futile attempts to age him by painting brown crows-feet near his eyes (with a layer of dirt which mysteriously leaves his neck and arms untouched) and painting grey streaks in his beard merely serve to emphasise his inescapable baby-face – albeit making it seem as though it has been run through the absurd MEanderthal app.

More importantly, the dialogue has been so inadequately recorded and mastered that it is virtually impossible to make out what many of the characters are saying, beyond their names and the names of those they are addressing. This does not help detract from the feeling that Charlie (Dylan Vas) simply does not want to speak to Daniel. I suspect Vas may simply have been nervous to be on camera, and this translated as monotone mumbled lines delivered simply with the hope it would all be over soon – but as he side-eyes Daniel, his face suggests his supposed best friend is about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.

The sound-editing further hampers a pivotal scene in the film, when Daniel is visited by the voice of Grandma (credited as Josephine Beauchamp, the Director’s real Grandmother). Daniel finds himself alone in a deserted patch of wilderness, before a ‘sound’ calls to him from across the rugged terrain. He wanders across the vast landscape – in what would be some stunning cinematography but for the want of a badly needed tripod to secure the perpetually shaky camera – before he is addressed by his deceased relative.

I wish I could tell you exactly what Grandma tells him – aside from “You can’t see me, but I can see you” – but all her dialogue seems to have been delivered into the drum of an empty washing machine, rendering her advice indecipherable to everyone but Daniel. This represents a major missed opportunity, as what should be an engaging scene which viewers can enjoy a moment of vicarious closure – having wondered what their own late loved ones would say to them, given the chance – gets lost in translation.

Overall, this film sums up exactly why film criticism can be such a tough gig. I know quite a few gifted writers who would prefer not to get into it, and I can understand why. For every great new unheard-of presenting you with a first glimpse of their potential, you will be handed a dozen films like Light –and have to explain that while the starry-eyed filmmaker’s heart was in the right place, audiences will not be convinced of their project’s quality as entertainment, or as a means to stimulate deeper introspective thought.

My hope is that Beauchamp will still feel better for having made this film; for having used the experience as a mechanism to examine his own feelings about the special relationship he had with his Grandmother. If that is the case, then the fact this film does not say much of substance to other people may not matter very much after all.

In terms of future projects, Beauchamp and his team need to work hard to get the basics down before they try to tackle more complex existential plot points. Light is badly let down by shoddy audio-editing, amateurish camera-work, poorly executed make-up, and a failure to adequately coach other actors through takes when they were clearly in need of guidance. While this is a healthy exercise in grief and self-reflection, Light does not have the necessary competencies to impact wider audiences.

Submissions for the 2020 edition of the Indy Film Awards are now closed, and the new year of submissions will open in March. In the meantime, the very best of the films sent for review will be screened at a day-long event in Amsterdam. Tickets are available from FilmFreeway via the link below.

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