The Blacklight is an ambitious supernatural crime thriller that feels a lot like someone answering the question of what was in Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase with “something Satanic and deeply fucked up.” It’s an intriguing idea to build a crime film around, and that’s exactly what director Nick Snow and his co-writer Brooks Russell set out to do — mostly successful in embodying the spirit of the idea even as the number of twists and turns sometimes burden the narrative. At the very least, it’s a good-looking film with standout performances that make it worth a watch for fans of low-budget thrillers.
Danny (Grant Lancaster) is a career criminal trying to make a new life for himself. It … doesn’t last long, and he’s quickly caught committing petty burglary by rich kid Liam (Russell), who sees an opportunity in the leverage he now holds over Danny. He convinces his “new friend” to start robbing for fun, which leads to the unfortunate error of teaming up with Kit (Corey Scott Rutledge) to rob an elderly cultist named Landon Hirsch (Michael Dale). Soon, the trio are pursued by nefarious forces from their past — including Danny’s psychotic childhood friend Lucky (Richard Templeton) — and present, like the cultists who want their power back.
There’s a lot to keep track of, and the sometimes non-linear storytelling doesn’t make it easy. Within that, though, there’s quite a lot to enjoy — particularly Templeton’s turn as Lucky, whose costume and handkerchief hairdo makes him feel like a demented David Foster Wallace. He’s the wild card in the story, pushing along the plot in satisfyingly violent ways. Lancaster also keeps everything together as the lead, and his connection with Landon’s daughter, Hannah (Samantha Aneson), is resolved in a really satisfying manner.
Snow’s visual aesthetic is also accomplished, with effective use of color, shadow and sound design — particularly when things shift from the gritty to the supernatural.
There are elements that don’t work. Lucky’s controlled evil contrasts with the chaos of Kit, whose nutty energy kicks everything off. Rutledge is great in the role, but his presence in the story feels a bit like, well, you’ve seen this type of monster before, and his outrageousness doesn’t quite tonally land. Oddly enough, The Blacklight becomes more focused the longer it runs; it’s a story that comes to understand what it’s about after spending its opening hour establishing the world in which it operates. Kit feels at home in that first part; Lucky feels more at home in the second, more confident half.
There’s a lot to follow in The Blacklight, and frankly it doesn’t all gel together as well as I wished it would. But that’s pretty much the deal in almost any indie thriller. All things considered, the level of world-building and commitment to supernatural spookiness within the crime genre is pretty impressive, and even if the story doesn’t come together as cleanly as it could have, the craft on display is a sight to behold.