You would be forgiven if you thought the only thing Demi Moore was famous for is as that older chick shacking up with that semi-retarded kid in the trucker hat who likes to punk celebrities. After all, she did take a major sabbatical from the acting game for quite some time, leaving behind a thriving career, only to return recently with a guest spot on the “Charlie’s Angels” sequel. Now Moore stars in “Half Light”, a ghost thriller from across the pond starring Moore as Rachel, a successful American writer living in London who, after her precocious tyke drowns himself, moves to a Scottish cabin in the middle of nowhere in order to drown in her sorrows.
Unfortunately for our American lass, the cabin, which hasn’t been lived in for years, is haunted by a ghostly spirit. Soon, writers block and grief isn’t the only thing Rachel has to worry about, as her dead son begins showing up at odd hours, beckoning her to “be with him”. But the good news is that Angus (Hans Matheson), the Scottish chap who runs the lighthouse nearby, is handsome and he’s interested. Rachel is hesitant at first, having just split up with her failed writer of a husband back in London, but the promise of burnt fish and disturbing daily visitations by her dead son makes up her mind for her. Can you blame the girl? It’s too bad for Rachel, then, that ol Angus has a little secret of his own…
Although billed as a thriller, “Half Light” is very much a supernatural ghost movie. It’s not “horror” in the genre sense, although there are ghosts and thrills aplenty. Written and directed by Aussie Craig Rosenberg (“After the Sunset”), there is a very noticeable European sensibility to the film’s pacing. Another oddity is that whenever ghosts aren’t involved, Rosenberg directs like he’s making a traveling brochure for Scotland’s Tourism Board. Which might not be such a bad idea if Scotland was ever in need of some good P.R., because the “Scotland” shown here (in actuality the LLandwyn Island of Isle of Anglesey in Wales), with its wide open beaches and tall grass bristling in the cool evening wind, is simply gorgeous to behold.
The beautiful scenery also makes for a stark contrast against the supernatural elements of the film. The cabin by the beach becomes the hub of ghost activity, as what seems like the spirit of Rachel’s dead son returns to haunt mom with a vengeance. And while Angus seems like a savior, he, too, turns out to be more than what he seems, making Rachel’s already fragile circumstance even less tenable. What’s a broken hearted novelist, already suffering from terrible guilt, to do when the one rock she thought she could lean on suddenly turns into mist?
“Half Light” doesn’t terrify as much as it creeps you out, especially the early scenes with Rachel’s dead son. Here, Rosenberg methodically introduces the film’s supernatural element a bit at a time, never offering up too much. It’s a tease, but an effective one. Rosenberg’s choice regarding the aesthetics of the Scottish locale makes the fear all the more intense when the scene shifts from the pleasant countryside to Rachel’s lonely and constricted cabin, or the towering, skeletal lighthouse nearby.
As the star, Demi Moore is in fine form, portraying the wounded mother who suddenly gets a burst of energy in her romance with Angus with equal believability. When further secrets about those around her are revealed, you can practically see every thought running through Rachel’s head as she tries to make sense of a situation that has already gone beyond her grasp. The rest of the cast doesn’t appear long enough to really make much of an impression, with the exception of Hans Matheson as the charming Angus. The rest of the townspeople are barely given names, save for a female outcast who also happens to be psychic and can, predictably, see the dead.
Rosenberg’s direction is slow and purposeful, offering up a drama early on, before slowly easing into the supernatural by introducing ghost elements through the son. The director then makes a smart decision and lowers the tension so much that we think everything might turn out okay after all. Rachel’s romance with Angus, near the middle, practically evaporates any sense of dread the film had developed up to that point. But near the hour mark, the film once again knocks the audience over by cranking the tension way up. All of this makes for an effective and scary film, the kind that elects to slowly introduce the scares rather than rely on silly, out-of-dark-corner boo moments. The film’s middle, in particular, will give you goose bumps and make you look over your shoulder.
Of course the film is far from perfect. For one, an intelligent woman like Rachel seems a bit clueless as to the right course of action to take, even if she is currently locked in a haze of grief and mental confusion. Despite suffering from one ghostly encounter after another at the cabin, she continues to remain there, defying all logic and common sense. Later, when warned that if she should return to the cabin she will surely die, Rachel decides to return for her things anyway. The film also has a plot twist in its last act that threatens to torpedo most of what’s come before, not to mention lowering the scare factor tremendously. As well, the twist relies on a plot contrivance involving an elusive photo that is a little hard to swallow, especially in this day and age.
Until it’s all-too conventional last act, “Half Light” is a surprisingly good ghost story. It’s no surprise that the highlights all come in the middle portions, where Rosenberg concentrates solely on making the audience uncomfortable, pulling out one good scare after another. What makes “Half Light’s” supernatural element works so well is that Rosenberg doesn’t hurry, and sometimes there isn’t even a payoff to the long build up, not that you’ll notice as the anticipation alone will have been worth it. As such, one can’t help but wish Rosenberg had carried the spooks all the way to the very end. Alas, nothing good lasts forever, and for about 40 minutes in the middle of “Half Light”, it was indeed very good.
Craig Rosenberg (director) / Craig Rosenberg (screenplay)
CAST: Demi Moore …. Rachel Carlson
James Cosmo …. Finley
Henry Ian Cusick …. Brian Forester
Beans El-Balawi …. Thomas Carlson
Joanna Hole …. Mary Murray
Kate Isitt …. Sharon
Hans Matheson …. Angus