A film review by Jordan Pressler
Ever since the tender age of approximately 3, when I first became inaugurated into the wonderful world of horror, there was nothing more exciting for me than a Friday night: school is finished for the week; I don’t have to worry about waking up the next morning at 7:15; I get to sit back, relax, and pop on a horror movie for a scary good rollercoaster ride. However, way back in those juvenile days, I didn’t possess much of a sense of critical judgment. Every horror movie was a good horror movie, so there was absolutely zero chance at feeling the cold sting of disappointment. Jump forward a mere 12 years, and my dedication as an ardent genre buff has been tempered by a more mature perspective. To put it shortly, I’m now capable of being let down by a bad horror movie, of which there are numerous, but few are as jaw-droppingly disgraceful and utterly incompetent from start to finish as Chris Blake’s 2018 psychological thriller/teen slasher hybrid, All Light Will End.
Commencing with an immediately bland regurgitation of basic childhood phobias, a young Savannah Martin (Briana Tedesco) is alone in her bedroom on a dark, rainy night. Frightened of the storm raging just outside her window, she wanders into the nearby room of her mother, Diana (I Spit on Your Grave star Sarah Butler), who assures her timid daughter that there’s nothing to be afraid of (always a comforting sentiment in a horror movie, right?) before singing her a lullaby. Sadly, the gentle, somewhat impressive singing voice of Sarah Butler turns out to be one of this movie’s few elements worth remembering.
Once Diana retreats to her bedroom, Savannah is thrust back into the darkness, where the silhouette of a mysterious, intimidating figure is glimpsed through the blanket under which she’s cowering. Serving as the film’s first (but definitely not last) faux jump scare, the shape hovering over Savannah’s bed reveals itself to be none other than… Diana, wondering what her little girl is so petrified of. Yeah, right off the bat, I knew I was in for a dumpster fire.
Moving ahead about 12 years, Savannah (now portrayed by young adult Ashley Pereira) has grown into a striking, wildly successful horror novelist. As soon as we’re reacquainted with her, Savannah is on her way to giving an interview at a radio station to discuss the horror novel that catapulted her into the book world’s big league. All that I gathered from the acclaimed work is that it has something vaguely to do with overcoming your fears or whatever. Sometime later, Savannah learns that her brother is throwing a party (at a cabin in the woods, of course) to celebrate graduating from college, and decides to grab some friends, hit the road, and drive out to the middle of the woods to pay him a visit. Little does she know that a long-suppressed specter from the past has also tagged along for the ride, putting Savannah and her companions in life-threatening peril.
One of the first and most unsalvageable dilemmas inflicted upon this movie is the lack of a compelling protagonist. Savannah is quite conceivably the most boring and soporific lead character in a horror movie that I’ve ever had the misfortune of spending 85 minutes with! Straight away, she trudges into her bathroom with a blankly inscrutable expression that never for a second fades during the trajectory of the story. A therapy session between Savannah and a therapist (played by John Schuck, who is listed in the credits literally as “The Therapist”) goes nowhere remotely engaging, as it contains some of the dullest dialogue in patient-psychiatrist film history. From what I remember, the conversation revolves around her struggle with recurring nightmares from childhood. Now, I feel that this is important to note, Ashley Pereira is easy on the eyes. She has got super model good looks and knows how to wear a tank top like nobody’s business. From an acting standpoint, on the other hand, she is just abysmal! Pereira brings absolutely zilch to her underdeveloped, progressively nonsensical excuse for a role, wearing a thoroughly uninviting look of indifference and delivering her lines as though she were injected against her will with antidepressants shortly before filming. Honestly, one of the biggest mysteries of this film is how someone like her even has friends to begin with, let alone a boyfriend.
Speaking of said boyfriend, his name is Jack (Ted Welch), and on pure physical terms, he and Savannah wouldn’t make a believable couple on a kids’ cartoon. Their sheer body images are just completely incongruous with one another, and as far as their actual relationship is concerned, not a single sliver of chemistry presents itself between these two. In the small amount of time I spent with Jack and Savannah, I can only recall seeing them kiss maybe once or twice, and sleep next to each other in bed in one scene. Oh, and in that one scene, their backs are facing each other. I didn’t buy for a split second that these lumbering bores were in a “serious” relationship, as Savannah insists they are to the therapist.
Back to the ear bleed-inducing dialogue, once the generic batch of so-called buddies gathers together inside the car for the graduation trip, one friend whose name isn’t even worth looking up on Wikipedia jokes, “Hey guys, when we get to the cabin, who’s up for a game of strip monopoly?” or something along those dunderheaded lines. “Come on, Savannah, you’re with me on this, right?”, he continues. The response from the borderline comatose Savannah is, “Uuuuuh, nope. You’re, uh…. You’re on your own with that one.” If you think that line is a snooze to read, just imagine how hard I had to struggle to keep awake listening to it.
Stopping off at a gas station, Savannah wakes up in the car to find herself suddenly alone. Okay, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of horror can probably already discern that we are now in the process of a dream sequence, often one of the laziest and most excruciating cliches found in the worst horror movies. Believe me, this one is no exception. Slooooowly, Savannah makes her way into a store to look for her group, and oh my God, the pacing of this moment is drawn out to an unreasonably agonizing degree. For maybe 10 minutes that I will never get back in my life, we’re forced to watch this blank beautiful bore stroll ever so leisurely around the dimly lit setting, praying that the obvious dream will come to an end so we can get on with the sorry excuse for a narrative. Throughout the scene, Blake completely, disastrously fails to conjure even the slightest sense of dread with his dark hallways and pieces of paper floating freely within. The climax is nothing more than a painfully unremarkable image of some monster, wearing an insipid dime-store rubber mask, standing at the end of the hall. When Savannah wakens from these oh-so-traumatizing nightmares, she doesn’t even look anxious or startled. She simply opens her eyes and appears as lifeless as when she first stepped before the camera.
When asked what is my biggest pet peeve in horror, what is the worst cliché imaginable that takes me out of the exercise almost immediately, it’s characters with no distinguishable personalities making the most boneheaded, illogical decisions you can think of – and to my horror, this film is bombarded with them. None of the decisions any of the characters make ring true, and as a result, it’s impossible to connect with any of them on a human level or care about whether they live to see tomorrow or end up a pile of intestines on the blade of an axe. As the friends enter the cabin in which they’ll be spending the weekend, they come across the shape of a man sitting motionless in front of a tv in the dark. Savannah slowly approaches the odd figure, prepared with a weapon for defense, if I remember correctly, only to realize… it’s just her brother, Leeland (Michael James Thomas, who gives the most contemptible interpretation of gagging in repulsion). He jumps up with a start, and his sister exclaims, “Leeland! What the hell!” This genius’ response: “Me? You’re the one about to hack me to pieces with a knife!” Now, why in the hell a human being with even a partially functioning brain would sit in a cabin all alone in the dark and not make a movement or sound after people have walked into his place of residence right behind him is anyone’s guess.
Once the nighttime sets in, and our main characters gather round the campfire to exchange a series of spooky stories, their personalities finally emerge… if only! Leeland relays a moderately creepy tale from his past about seeing a scarecrow by the side of the road while driving with his dad, and the response from Jack and Savannah’s girlfriend, Faith (Alexandra Harris), is so incredulous it’s downright laughable. “Holy shit, man! That was awesome!”, exclaims Jack, followed by Faith’s comment, “I am sweating over here right now!” Give me a break you 30-year-old 5-year-olds! For no apparent reason whatsoever, the reliably tedious Savannah stands up and says her goodnights. Again, how does someone so dull and devoid of personality have a single friend to say goodnight to? Oh, and I almost forgot, why was Leeland by himself in this dingy cabin located in the forest? What on earth kind of “graduation party” is that? Answer: There isn’t one; Chris Blake and his co-writer, Jason Hill, just used that as a brainless, cheap excuse to get a bunch of nondescript kids together in the most hackneyed setting available for a slasher film.
I’m going to be getting into some minor spoiler territory here, so if you haven’t seen the movie, and for some reason think you might want to – perhaps just to see if it’s as repugnant as I feel it is – you may want to come back to this review at a later period.
The following morning, Faith notices that her boyfriend has gone missing, so the remaining 4 vacationers head out to the woods in pursuit of him. Faith stumbles across a dead body and automatically scolds Savannah: “It’s all your fault. It’s all your fucking fault!” Maybe there’s only so much an actor can do with lines this pathetic and silly, but the performance of Alexandra Harris is arguably the weakest in the movie, and boy, does that say a lot! Blake tacks on one of his multiple story-halting flashbacks, and as a result, we uncover a dark secret to Savannah’s past that spoon-feeds the audience into just what exactly is going on. The explanation to this steaming pile of tripe is as blatantly preposterous as it is convoluted. Following this overextended interlude of lame exposition, Savannah undergoes a transformation akin to the one Jack Torrance experienced in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Only difference is Jack Nicholson is an actor with an endless supply of talent and liveliness, therefore he was able to effectively convey his character’s mental disintegration and sell his descent into madness with frightening precision and credibility. Ashley Pereira is so terrible in her attempt to channel Nicholson’s energetic lunacy that I was embarrassed for her. She contrives this unconvincing snicker to represent her deep-seated anxieties and resentments bubbling to the surface, but it is completely phony and the effort is so conspicuously laboured.
Get ready for another character’s implausibility: After a certain character reveals their true self and horrific actions to another, that other person stands still the entire time and essentially waits to get an axe thrust into their body. Which part of the body? I have no clue since director Blake makes yet another baffling decision to depict many of the kills offscreen. It’s one thing for a horror movie to rely on suspense and dread over copious gore. Filmmakers such as Bryan Bertino and Alfred Hitchcock have mastered the art of building a feeling of anticipation with light and sound, then displaying just enough glimpses of a stabbing to enable our imaginations to fill in the rest. It’s another thing when a director proves inept at suffusing their project with tension, then to add insult to injury, elects to deprive audiences of even the schlocky pleasure of a gratifying, creative kill.
“Why are you so afraid?”, asks the psychopath who just butchered at least two people we know of. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you just killed our friends, you crazy bitch!” I swear to God, I could never come up with dialogue this witless and unforgivably cringeworthy. That is a talent only Chris Blake and Jason Hill can take credit for. Great job, you guys! The time and effort it must’ve taken for you to craft such a delicate, original, intellectual piece of work is just exemplary. I must learn from you, oh horror maestros!
As though the central plop of a plot wasn’t enough, Hill and Blake incorporate a secondary story revolving around Savannah’s sheriff father, David (Andy Buckley), and his deputies investigating a string of gruesome, connected murders around the campgrounds. The time period in which this unfolds is unclear; it might be before the main story about Savannah and Leeland in the woods, or it may be weeks later. I couldn’t care less, and clearly, neither could Blake. He jumps back and forth haphazardly between the two timelines and actually has the gall to try to subtly write in some questionable racist undertones. One of his deputies is an overweight Caucasian southerner named Stache (Aaron Munoz), who is often seen stuffing his face with donuts (cliché #5,000 in this script) and makes these little biting jabs at his fellow deputy, Adam (Sam Jones), a young black man new to the team. Whether this is a commentary on discrimination against people of color in the workplace or just a case of some immature idiot who gets off on insulting his colleague is never addressed nor expanded on. “Maybe, maybe not” is the attitude with which this running quarrel is treated.
As if there weren’t enough forgettable characters clogging the screenplay, some old lady trying to help the police find body parts around her land proves one of the weirdest. She acts extremely nonchalantly when faced with severed heads and ripped-out innards littered about the surrounding landscape, yet at one point, she casually mentions, “I almost threw up in my mouth when I saw that.” Yeah, right. Someone as chill and visibly unafraid as she is, trying to get me to believe that she nearly vomited earlier after discovering a body part, what a crock of shit! That’s an issue with Blake’s directing; he has no control or understanding over whatever tone he’s aiming for. The mood is not at all ominous, so if the people caught up in this corpse-strewn mess don’t appear to be horrified out of their minds, then how the heck does Blake expect me to be?
Compounding the never-ending compendium of stale cliches, blandly ineffective jump scares, spineless murders and subpar acting is Blake’s incessant use of flashbacks. He stuffs the frame with so many images and conversations from previous scenes that it not only distracts from what’s taking place in the present, it actually has the (I assume) unintentional effect of speaking down to his audience and treating us like idiots. By constantly going back to a shot from earlier in the film – one shot in particular of a secret room in the Martin house is reinserted at least 3 times – or rewinding to a dialogue in order to clarify the meaning behind it, Blake is essentially looking at his audience and saying, “Hey morons, do you remember that scene from earlier? Nah, you probably don’t. You’re too dumb. I’ll just hold your hand and walk you through it so you’ll understand.”
One of the most head-smackingly inane and lazy flourishes (I’m not exaggerating, I did have to smack myself in the forehead in total disbelief) is the sight of Sarah Butler and Ashley Pereira standing across from one another as mother and daughter. These two attractive actresses are so noticeably close in age that it is flat-out ludicrous and risible to take them seriously while playing a parent and child. They could pass for sisters, but that is it. For Sarah Butler to qualify as plausible in the role of Pereira’s mother, she would’ve had to have given birth to her at most likely 9 years old. Shameful, embarrassing casting that underscores how cheap Blake played it in assembling his actors. The interaction between the pair is similarly ridiculous. Savannah scoffs at her mother’s efforts to have a heart-to-heart, tells her to “go fuck [her]self” and accuses her of talking at her rather than to her. I abhor watching children speak to their parents like that for no apparent reason in film, especially when I’m denied any nuggets of warmth or empathy to help me understand why the relationship is so sour. For a much smarter and emotionally insightful look into the fractured kinship between a mother and her young daughter, check out Bryan Bertino’s The Monster, starring the vastly superior acting duo, Zoe Kazan and Ella Ballentine.
A hodgepodge of teen slasher cliches and unenlightening psychological analysis, All Light Will End is a horrifically misconceived, ploddingly paced, poorly acted waste of time that provides neither the escalating sense of apprehension expected of a thriller nor any of the deliciously shocking carnage of a cabin-in-the-woods splatter fest. It takes less than an hour and a half to get through, but by the time the unsurprisingly bonkers finale rolls along, it feels like an eternity has gone by! Save yourself the horror!
Jordan gave this film a 1/2 star bumped up to 1 star by Horror Oasis for our rating system.
Daddy Still Loves Us is a 2019 American supernatural psychological horror film that revolves around an adolescent boy named Marcus, who finds himself falling victim to an inner malevolence after the death of his father.