Blue Light

Blue Light (2023)

Blue Light had its world première on Saturday 28th Oct at the Halloween FrightFest

Blue Light opens with the sound of a little girl singing The Wheels on the Bus. As Carrie (Bella DeLong) approaches the girl from behind and compliments her voice, the girl turns around and instead of smiling or chatting, stares menacingly at Carrie. It is an instantly unsettling moment, casting an ominous shadow over what follows.

Carrie has come to this park, assembling with old school friends – or at least acquaintances – Gaby (Ana Zambrana), Chris (Daryl Tofa), Sarah (Amber Janea), Michael (Jarrett Brown), as well as Michael’s college roomie Jason (John Bucy), whom none of the others have met before. If the last, a tall, taciturn, intense Marine veteran, expressly more than capable of killing others, comes with a name that suggests an iconic slasher, then the reason they are all there is to celebrate the birthday of their Olivia, played by an actor whose very name (Crystal Lake Evans) suggests slaughter from the same source, even as Olivia’s surname Reed casts her as the female counterpart to hell-raising hedonist Oliver.  Olivia certainly has a hedonistic plan: they are all going to travel cross-country to spend the weekend partying at the hot-ticket Blue Light music festival. With a septet of irresponsible, wildly intoxicated young people driving through the night in a battered old Recreational Vehicle, what could possibly go wrong? It turns out that Carrie (also named for a horror icon) is after all going on a bus like the one in the song of the creepy little girl.

Two things are already very clear. The first is that these are classic horror co-eds, horny and bitchy, and despite having most of their adult lives ahead of them, still hurtling at a devil-may-care pace towards sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll. The second is that they come overcoded, so that while their doom already seems in place, it is near impossible to know what form it might take. There are those resonant character names mapping out different directions that the narrative might take, there is Chris’ explicit status as the stock ‘stoner dude’, and the dead animals that decorate the RV’s interiors and exteriors with foreboding, and the group’s run-in with a pair of rape-happy truckers, their wrong turn, their encounter with a bar full of locals who fall silent when they enter (“I’ve seen this movie”, Carrie comments) and with a proprietor who gives them an archetypal Old Man’s Warning™ to head back, and then there is the vehicle’s mysterious collision with something or someone out on a dark, wooded backroad – these are the hoary old clichés on which horror is standardly built, but they rarely all come together like this unless you are watching a postmodern horror that knowingly foregrounds its own artifice, like Drew Goddard’s The Cabin In The Woods (2012). Which is to say that Blue Light is nothing if not self-aware, and it plays a game of challenging the viewer, along with its seven characters, to determine the precise nature of the mortal danger that they are facing, and the exact subgenre of horror in which they have become trapped.

The sense of overdetermination will continue as these college kids come under attack from something outside – and occasionally inside – the RV, something that at times behaves like the Kandarian demons from Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981), at times like shadowy ghosts, at times like sasquatch, or aliens, or angry hick truckers out for revenge. Is it a brilliant birthday prank? or a not-so-brilliant birthday prank gone very, very wrong? or the effect of all the alcohol and drugs? or PTSD? or a dream? are they in hell? or in a post-accident limbo akin to the one in Dave Payne’s Reeker (2005) or Rob Zombie’s 31 (2016)? Most of these options are expressly considered by the surviving students, even as their numbers are whittled down one by one – but writer/director Andy Fickman fully embraces the ambiguous and the irrational, leaving meaning parked out on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, with no direction home.

The attacks on these beleaguered, terrified adolescents, all at one psychological, supernatural, viscerally physical and trippily hallucinatory, would appear to be the mysterious workings of a death that is foretold, and of course inevitable – but also tragically premature. For these kids are cut down in their prime, and their every effort to stay alive, and to keep this malevolent whatever at bay, is doomed to fail once those wheels on the bus have been set in motion. Still, isn’t every single one of us heading, one way or another, into the blue light?

strap: Andy Fickman’s mystery horror sees seven carefree co-eds besieged by a darker destiny on their way to a hedonistic festival

© Anton Bitel