Henry Ian Cusick
Ever wonder what happened to Demi Moore? She may recently have caused a minor furore in the tabloids by dating, and then marrying, someone 15 years her junior (even though no-one would have noticed if Ashton Kutcher had been 15 years her senior) – but it has been three years since ‘Gimme’ was last spotted on a big screen, sending herself up in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003). Now she is back in Half Light, although it seems unlikely that this supernatural thriller will be the film to bring her career back from the dead.
After her young son Thomas (Beans Balawi) is killed in an accident, successful mystery/thriller writer Rachel Carlson (Demi Moore) struggles to recover from her sense of loss and guilt. Eight months later, Rachel’s best friend Sharon (Kate Isitt) sets her up to stay at a secluded cottage on the Scottish coast, so that she can take a break from her disintegrating marriage to Brian (Henry Ian Cusick) and hopefully overcome her writer’s block. There she meets dashing lighthouse keeper Angus McCulloch (Hans Matheson), and, united by solitude, they soon embark on a romance – except that Angus is haunted by a mysterious history, while Rachel keeps getting messages of warning from her dead son, and as the ghosts of the past return to visit the living, pretty soon things are going bump in the half light.
Near the beginning of Half Light, Rachel’s husband Brian is informed by a publisher’s letter that his first novel is not mysterious enough for a mystery or thrilling enough for a thriller. Later, Angus will ask Rachel if her own first book was a tragedy or a comedy, only to receive the studiously ambiguous reply “Well, it’s a mystery”. This is how many viewers will feel about the film itself, which explores those blurred, crepuscular regions between established genres.
Is it a family tragedy? A comedy (I certainly laughed every time Angus played his tape of ‘traditional Celtic music’)? A romance (complete with soft-focus shagging in front of a blazing hearth)? A writer’s block fantasy, like The Shining, Barton Fink or Swimming Pool? Is it a Hitchcockean thriller (where the ghosts are all in the mind), or a genuine ghost story inflected with criminal elements, like Don’t Look Now, What Lies Beneath, Frozen or even Demi Moore’s previous Ghost? Or is it in the maternity-and-madness subgenre recently made so voguish by Dark Water, The Forgotten, The Descent and even Silent Hill? In a sense Half Light is all of these things – and less. Which is to say that, like Brian’s rejected novel, it ends up not being enough of anything to grab the attention.
It is not that Half Light entirely lacks quality. It is mostly well acted in what are, at least in retrospect, challenging roles, with Matheson in particular having his work cut out for him as the multi-faceted Angus, and even Moore playing things so low-key (or is it dull?) that you can for a moment forget that you are watching the over-the-top star of Disclosure, Striptease and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. There are plenty of wild twists in the second half, even if these are supported by the kind of stale old red herrings that you might expect to find lying about in the ‘former fisherman’s cottage’ where Rachel has taken up residence. Certainly the settings are spectacular, with director Craig Rosenberg wringing all the atmosphere that he can from the grey drizzle of Ynys Llandwynn off Anglesey, where principal photography took place.
The real problem, however, is that if you strip away all the references to other films, and all the play on genres, what remains is a film without its own soul, as insubstantial, and as difficult to credit, as a spectre half-glimpsed through the Scottish mist. Half Light will be eternally damned to wander the empty corridors of a video store near you for that most inexcusable of cinematic offences: it is merely competent.