Director – Robert Hall
Cast – Bret Harrison, Laura Prepon, Ashley Laurence, Kevin Gage, Shannon Eubanks, Lucas Till, Hal Sparks, Josh Todd, Bob Penny, George Faughnan, Jonathan Spencer
Release Year – 2004
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I randomly came across this film after seeing a review for it on a horror site I like to frequent, and thankfully I was able to my hands on this film very quickly. This horror/drama film really did come out of nowhere in 2004 and was overlooked by many(including myself), which is quite a shame. Why? Well, this film may be one of the 10 most underrated horror films of the past decade and it shows that you can definitely mix horror and drama and get a fantastic watch in the end.
Lightning Bug stars Bret Harrison as Green Graves, a young boy forced to move from Detroit to The South alongside his single mother, Jenny(Ashley Laurence, of Hellraiser fame) and his younger brother Jay(Lucas Till, The Other Side, Dance of the Dead, Laid to Rest). The transition is difficult, but the years pass and Green perseveres into the man he wants to be, a special effects makeup artist. He aspires to move to Hollywood and make monsters for horror movies, but so far the only monsters around him are real ones. His drunken stepfather, Earl(the ever-awesome Kevin Gage) not only terrorizes his mother but Green and his younger brother as well, and Earl is only getting worse. Green’s problem’s do not end there, as a local and powerful church group aims to put an end to Green’s work and their leader, Mrs. Duvet, will stop at nothing to crush such pagan idolatry in her town. When Green meets a beautiful young girl named Angevin(Laura Prepon of That 70s Show), who may be the only person on earth to know as much about horror films as he does, he is enamored. Unfortunately, she is the daughter of Mrs. Duvet, and she will come with ever more problems for Green.
Horror/dramas are not put out very often in the horror realm, and I can tell you why. Simply put, they do not put out the type of horror we horror fans are looking to see. The horror in these type of films usually comes about via character relationships and the conflict involved with them. Personally, I have an appreciation for this type of horror because I believe it is harder to write horror based off of characters than horror based off of creatures, demons, zombies, etc. Writer/director Robert Hall(who also directed Laid to Rest) did an excellent job working these characters together and sold this film to me with its excellent story and screenplay. We get no useless characters whatsoever, and the conflict felt is real and intimidating. Yes that is right, “intimidating”. Some scenes were so strongly executed that I honestly shied away at times due to the immense pressure felt as a result of such awesome scene-building.
The character of Green Graves was portrayed awesomely by Bret Harrison(a nobody then, and a nobody now), who had me convinced on every scene that he really was experiencing the true horror of the events and atmosphere around him. I found it very cool that he was an aspiring special effects artist simply because it is a dream I am sure every single person reading this review would love to do for a living. Writer/director Robert Hall made his career as a special effects artist, so not only does he have great insight into this subject but this film may in face be based on certain conflicts he was encountered with as he pursued his career. Excellently done Mr. Hall.
His execution as a director is top notch, which is pretty surprising given this is his first feature film. He got the very best performances out of nearly all of his characters, including a fine and surprisingly well acted performance from Ashley Laurence herself. After seeing her do her thing in the Hellraiser series I never would have imagined that she could pull of a “trailer trash” redneck, but she did, and very well. We do not get too much in the element of gore and kills, but that is not what this film is about. Regardless, whatever gore we did see was nicely done and live action, as you should expect from a director with an extensive background in such things.
My only real complaint against this film would be the character performance of Mrs. Duvet, which I found very cliché and unfulfilling. I understand her type, but because every other character main character in this film came off so darn real and convincing I just could not look past her overly comical and unrealistic character usage. I will not go as far as to blame actress Shannon Eubanks for this because her performance was so outlandish she had to have had much influence from director Robert Hall to give us such a stand-out(in the worst of ways) performance.
Overall, this is an amazing horror/drama that I recommend to all fans of the genre. Do not expect the usual element of “horror” in this film, but expect REAL horror that we all can relate to thanks to such powerful performances by this film’s lead actors as well as excellent direction from Robert Hall.