Northern Lights

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Northern Lights
"Nicholas Connor has kept things simple here, and it pays off."

The exam period is often a challenging time for teenagers. For Emma (Katie Quinn) it's particularly tough because she wants to do right by the mother who always told her good exam results were vital, and who died a few years ago. She's also battling an anxiety disorder and trying to resist the temptation to drown her sorrows the way she has seen her father do. Fortunately she has loyal best friend Rob (Rhys Cadman) and fierce little sister (Megan Grady) to steer her right.

Many first time feature directors make the mistake of taking on overly complex stories. Nicholas Connor has kept things simple here, and it pays off. Quinn is strong in the lead and has natural chemistry with Cadman. Grady's performance is a bit more hit and miss but she has a strong presence that suggests she could do impressive work with a more experienced director. By and large she gets the best of the dialogue, which is stilted in places but salvaged by naturalistic performances.

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Despite tackling issues around bereavement and grief, Connor avoids ladelling on the sentiment, focusing instead on their practical impact. Emma's panic attacks are effectively performed and presented. It's unfortunate that this involves a strobe so some people will be unable to watch the film, but at least a warning is provided. The limitations placed on Rob's life by illness are also important to the story but there s never any suggestion that he doesn't find joy in life, nor does it dominate his day to day life, which makes a refreshing change from the way these subjects are often handled in film.

The set design work here is sparse, reflecting something of the emptiness in its characters' lives. There are some attractive outdoor shots, however, and these are important to the bond Emma and Rob share, which is rooted in part in their sense of identity as northerners. Connor lets us see the beauty that they find in industrial landscapes and even in the decay of those spaces. Te film is deeply embedded in the mindset of people just discovering the world around them and accepting it on its own terms without adult prejudices.

Northern Lights may sometimes by lacking in energy but it doesn't outstay its welcome and overall it's an impressive debut.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2016
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A teenager deals with bereavement, anxiety and exams in Northern Lights

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SMHAFF 2017

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