“Whatever you find out, this has meant a lot,” Richard (Jim Gaffigan) tells Sheila (Marin Ireland), just after she’s placed a recorder inside his home in “Light From Light” with the aim of seeing whether there’s any paranormal activity going on inside. It’s been a year since his wife Susanne’s death and he’s come to suspect her spirit may still be in the house – despite a healthy skepticism, he’s sure he’s felt her touch on more than one occasion and there’s a flickering light in the upstairs bedroom that doesn’t seem like an electrical issue. Sheila, for her part, is careful not to push him to think there are any spirits around – she takes no money for her efforts, even though she’s parted ways with her last team of ghost hunters and now make ends meet as a car rental clerk – and in many ways, she’s just as curious as he is since if the answer is no, her life’s work may have been a waste.
What’s real is what can be felt between them, rendered so beautifully by Gaffigan and Ireland and articulated so wisely by writer/director Paul Harrill, who turns the professional encounter into an opportunity for Richard and Sheila to let their guard down to someone who has no history to cloud their judgment. As the two talk, sharing things they likely haven’t said to those closest to them and probably uncovering memories that they didn’t realize they had, “Light From Light” reveals how both have had experiences that have led them to question their beliefs, unsure what the next step is when the divine hand they’ve presupposed has controlled their fate may not be around to guide them, and Harrill brilliantly devises a parallel to suggest the reverse, observing Sheila’s son Owen (Josh Wiggins) dancing around making a stronger commitment to his girlfriend Lucy (Athena Frizzell) when they are about to graduate high school since he can’t trust where the relationship will go.
“Light From Light” is at once reminiscent of the regional cinema of John Sayles and Victor Nunez, informed by a strong sense of place in Harrill’s home base of Tennessee while carving out new territory as an invigorating exploration of faith that finds a clever avatar in ghost hunting. Cinematographer Greta Zozula, so gifted with grain as one could see from the grit she gave Augustine Frizzell’s “Never Goin’ Back,” has a field day with the fog that sits over the mountains and the slight haze that it feels Richard and Sheila work through as part of their daily lives and Harrill imbues their experience with rich details, beautifully working in small moments with the pair at their jobs and at home where so much of their past can rise to the surface without additional exposition while seeing how their routine has been shaken. Of course, Ireland and Gaffigan can express so much with a single glance and they’re both exquisite here, radiating intelligence and uncertainty as complementary traits instead of compromising one another. Their magnetic pull contributes to the magic the film has where small acts of compassion can fill a void that no other gesture could and while the characters may be chasing apparitions in “Light From Light,” it restores one’s belief in other people, a somewhat radical and entirely galvanizing notion for the world we live in now.
“Light From Light” will screen at Sundance on January 29th at 8:30 pm at the Prospector Square Theatre, January 31st at noon at the Library Center Theater and February 1st at 9 pm at the Temple Theatre in Park City, and February 2nd at the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City.