Written & Directed by Nicholas Connor
Starring Rhys Cadman, Katie Quinn, & Megan Grady
Indie Film Review by Chris Olson
Coming-of-age stories are a popular genre for filmmakers. The glorious trappings of youth juxtaposed against the harsh realities of adulthood make for a threatening contrast which adds instant tension to a film. Whichever side of the line you fall there are often many things audiences can take from these fables, whether it be to appreciate the freedoms of being a child, to accept the inevitability of age, or to simply thank the deities that one does not have to endure puberty more than once in a lifetime! Indie film Northern Lights, from writer and director Nicholas Connor, however, offers a rather unique perspective on the subject, offering up a tale of woe whereby our hero seems consumed by the anxieties of someone much older whilst simultaneously coping with the fundamental issues which plague her peers - like boys and exams.
Teenager Emma (Katie Quinn) is on the cusp of adulthood, at that oh-so-very pivotal stage in life where she is taking her exams. The stress of the process is undoubtedly unnerving her, especially when it seems to be sitting atop a mountain of pre-existing problems. Whilst she is able to find solace in her close friend Rob (Rhys Cadman), and mild distraction in her short-but-sharp-tongued younger sister Mia (Megan Grady), there seems to be a constant atmosphere of foreboding surrounding Emma that threatens to consume her at every turn.
Rob suffers from his own troubles. With a hole in his heart (literally) and a yearning in his soul (emotionally - for Emma), his world is not that dissimilar Emma’s. He struggles to find the point to life, battling through an existential crisis that would probably be quickly solved by a kiss from his crush, Rob provides that much-needed friend-zone sparring partner for Emma to grapple with her own anxieties.
The phrase Northern Lights is not used in this indie film to refer to the aurora borealis, but actually the simpler if electrified beauty found in the streetlights over some of the northern towns. These orange glows are to be replaced with LEDs, changing the visual landscape for these characters, perfectly representing the dramatic shift in their lives that approaches. This kind of symbolism is delicately presented by Connor, and a great example of why his film contains plenty for viewers to chew on. Another would be the wooden crate wrapped in chains that starkly punctuates the movie with its presence every so often. It is a visually intelligent film, utilising some fantastic methods to create interwoven themes and ideas whilst complementing the characterisation being presented in the story. For example, during one sequence where Emma gets stood up for a date, she walks away down the lonely road slowly out of focus, reminiscent of her hopes which have been dashed.
It has to be said that the dialogue could be improved. Certain elongated scenes between the three main characters had a clunky feel to them, the performers seeming to stick to their lines too rigidly without allowing enough sense of chemistry to develop naturally. Considering the heavy emotional pull of the plot, it seemed a shame to be let down by some wooden delivery which jolted this viewer out of the moment. That being said, the performances are definitely commendable, especially during the final third of the film where everything came together fantastically for a really poignant and moving finale. Without spoiling it, there was one sequence using Emma, some brilliant music and a projector which was utterly dazzling. Quinn in particular was increasingly impressive during the film’s latter half.
It is also worth mentioning the music from Some Kind of Illness, and Conor McCabe, which created a superb soundscape to the emotive story being presented.
Aside from being a little light on plot in the earlier sections of the movie and some dialogue which could have benefitted from a less-is-more approach, Northern Lights is a beautiful piece of filmmaking that is as tonally rich as it is remarkably poignant.
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