Where as I normally end up arguing against why a film should be considered a horror film, this time I’m going another way and argue why Lightning Bug is a Horror film. As I stated in Horror, My Definition, a Horror film is a film that used dread and horror, while trying to evoke negative emotions. Lightning Bug does that for me, upon first viewing I wasn’t that impressed and disregarded is horror elements. Instead focusing on how its a Coming of Age Drama. But after viewing the film never really settled and has passed through my mind on several occasions and when I reflect on the film it’s dark and haunting undertones that remain.
Lightning Bug is a fictionalized account of writer/director Robert Green Hall’s life. It follows the Graves family, Green (Bret Harrison), his brother Jay (Lucas Till) and their mother Jenny (Ashley Laurence), living in a small town in the south. Green is a talented aspiring special effects artist, something that the town ostracizes him for seeing his work, as being inherently evil. Jenny falls for the wrong man, something she has a penchant for, the man this time being Earl Knight (Kevin Gage) an alcoholic prone to violence. Green convinces Mr. Tightwiler (Bob Penny), to let him run the haunted house this year, so that he can use his share of the ticket sales to leave town for Hollywood to make a name for himself. Something that Mr. Tightwiler, one of Green’s few supporters quickly agrees to. Green also has a chance run in with Angevin Duvet (Laura Prepon), a girl with a hazy past that share his interests in horror as well as being a social outcast herself. The two quickly fall for one another, something that puts them at odds with bother Angevin’s mother, Ms. Duvet (Shannon Eubanks) and Earl. This schism grows when Green returns home to find Earl beating his mother and quickly defends her. After the assault Jenny declares that she and Earl are done, something she said earlier when Earl was arrested for stabbing a man and took him back. Shortly thereafter, Green and Angevin consummate their relationship in the local church, staining a pillow used for prayer. An event that comes around on Green when Ms. Duvet finds out and sets about making his life as unpleasant as possible, stage protests and having him arrested by giving false testimony when the church is later graffiti-ed. After getting out, with the aid of some friends, Green set back to work on the haunted house to prepare it for Halloween, which is rapidly approaching. But things get worse when Ms. Duvet visits the haunted house with a sledge-hammer and Earl visits Jenny….
So the horror in this film muted, but still prevalent. From the moment we’re introduced to Earl, we know that things will not end well. Which they most certainly don’t. This is the main source of Dread for the film, we know something terrible will happen, but we don’t know when or how. Only that it will and when it does it really kicks in the horror as Earls attack on Jenny is as brutal as it is visceral.
The film also ends on a bitter sweet note, but with a lot left up in the air. As Green leaves town, he leaves his little brother Jay. This would be less somber if Jay had his mother still, something he does not have. So we’re left questioning his fate. We also see Green get away with his revenge on Earl. Not that Earl didn’t deserve what he had coming. But the lack of guilt or conscious of his actions make you wonder about the dubious place he resides emotionally.
So yes, there’s enough horror elements that I truly feel that Lightning Bug can and should be considered a horror film. Will it chill your veins while at the same time make you’re heart race in your chest? Certainly no, but it will stick with you and haunting you in moments of quiet. At least it does so for me.
Final thoughts, I really liked this film. The acting is solid across the board with Kevin Gage standing out. His portrayal of a violent man, who delights in violent deeds is incredibly sincere. Not that anyone one else is the cast was slacking, but Gage stands out in memory where others, such as Shannon Eubanks does not. I would suggest this film to people who have an open mind and willing to accept that not all horror is meant to curdle your blood, some serve to remind us of what all of us are capable of when pushed too far. 8/10