Whose fault was it what happened that night?
US / 14 minutes / color / Coral House Productions Dir: Jennifer Cummins Pr: Lisa Cooper Scr: Persephone Vandegrift Cine: Dan McComb Cast: Telisa Steen, Sarah Dennis, Elora Coble, Randall Dai, Pearl Klein, Danika Collins.
A very simple albeit narratively rather complex short that gives a powerful portrayal of grief but is, for me, let down by the triteness of its ending. The movie was, as acknowledged in the closing credits, funded through Indiegogo.
Karen (Telisa Steen) and her two girls (Sarah Dennis [right] and Elora Coble) in happier times.
Karen Kingston (Steen), a single mother and seeming career woman, always promised her timid younger daughter Rebecca Anne “Becca” (Coble) that she’ll make sure to protect her from any harm that might come her way; but Becca was abducted and murdered one night while Karen was out either working or socializing, leaving Becca’s much older sister Hanna (Dennis) to hold the fort. Unfortunately, Hanna got stuck into entertainment on her laptop and became oblivious to her surroundings.
There’s no real mystery about who the killer is. Right at the outset we see the newspaper photo of the suspect the cops have arrested for what the press have labeled the Dollhouse Murder, and soon we see him: Alex Nagel (Dai), the slimy handyman whom Karen has hired to do bits and pieces of maintenance around the house. One of the repairs he does, supposedly out of the goodness of his heart, is to fix the defective porch light on Becca’s dollhouse. Karen completely fails to pick up on the fact that Becca, despite this, quite clearly dreads Alex’s presence.
Becca (Elora Coble) is quite obviously distrustful if not frightened of . . .
. . . the creepy handyman Alex Nagler (Randall Dai).
We see the past tragedy in the form of various flashbacks, as you might expect. The narrative technique, which might seem a little clichéd, actually works very well here, in large part because of skilled editing and through the screenplay having placed the flashbacks wisely. It should be noted, too, that both Steen and Dennis very deftly present the post-tragedy Karen and Hanna, two individuals who have had all the possible pleasure and fulfillment drained out of their lives—at least for the foreseeable future.
Becca (Elora Coble) sleeps unaware of what’s about to happen.
As Hanna (Sarah Dennis) sits absorbed by her computer, Alex (Randall Dai) slips down the stairs behind her bearing Becca (Elora Coble).
They have only themselves to get each other through their bitter grief, to counter the feeling of overwhelming guilt that frequently assails them—Karen for having gone out that night, leaving the girls on their own, and Hanna for not having noticed anything amiss even when the killer was carrying her kid sister down the stairs right behind her.
Both mother and daughter are, too, being tormented by visions of the dead child. When kindly neighbor Teresa (Klein) arrives with her little daughter Rose (Collins) to help around the house, Karen and Hanna repeatedly see her as Becca.
Karen (Telisa Steen) and Hanna (Sarah Dennis) have only each other to help them work through their grief.
As for that ending? Alex’s repair of the dollhouse light didn’t last, and it had failed again by the time of the abduction. Now Karen, unable to bear the sight of the dollhouse any longer, busts it up. As the light lies there in the center of the bedroom carpet, it fizzles to life again. “Becca,” says Hanna, “has found her way home.”
Aside from that, The Last Light offers us many good things. As noted, the portrayal of grief is convincing. Coble’s acting as Becca is a bit up and down, although she’s exceptional in her depiction of the distrust the child has for the handyman. Dai, as that handyman, is likewise excellent, as is Steen. Best of all is Dennis as the adolescent; she manages both modes of Hanna—the loving big sis before the tragedy, the distraught one after it—with great skill and artistry.
The Last Light is decorated (you’ll know why I use this term if you watch the movie!) by some pleasing false-color work by cinematographer McComb, as if the past for Karen and Hanna is a magic-realist territory. And the soundtrack by Catherine Grealish, featuring deceptively simple piano work, sometimes orchestrated, sometimes not, is lovely in itself and blends in admirably with the mood of the movie.