It’s been claimed that over a quarter of Americans believe that humans possess psychic abilities, including telepathy, clairvoyance, and channeling the dead. Though numerous mediums, both famous and obscure, have become synonymous with conartistry and scandal, the practice still chugs ahead, pulling in over $2 billion a year from devotees. Antithetically, as long as mediums have existed, individuals and organizations have committed to exposing various frauds and deceptions associated with the craft. This dichotomy is presented as the central conflict in John Babu’s short film, A Candle in the Dark, though its execution is muddled at best.
According to the official synopsis, The Medium (Michael Marshall) professionally channels the voices of the dead while simultaneously striving to live up to his mother’s legacy as a celebrated medium. While he conducts séances for clients, another man (James Kakaletris), who is credited as The Mystery Character, works diligently to uncover whether or not the preternatural happenings are real. There isn’t much else to the narrative, as the plot is mostly a loosely-connected string of scenes at a desk, overlaid with hackneyed narration from both lead characters.
Therein lies the issue. The movie is intrinsically devoid of any discernible progression and does not flush out any of its characterizations to compensate, regardless of what’s delivered in the voice-over. There are twists designed to subvert our expectations as to these characters and their intentions, but they are conveyed so murkily that it is completely forgivable if they pass you by on a first viewing. This is exacerbated by odd leaps in logic in how The Mystery Character susses out falsehood (especially involving a paintbrush and a candle wick) and how The Medium leaves possibly incriminating evidence scattered about all willy-nilly.
“…professionally channels the voices of the dead while simultaneously striving to live up to his mother’s legacy as a celebrated medium.”
These issues could have easily been averted if a bit more time was applied to building the overall narrative, giving our leads clearly defined goals, and reassessing the central theme of A Candle in the Dark. The story doesn’t impress as a character study or an active mystery. Even though it has a nine-minute runtime, the lack of cohesive direction turns the experience into a slog.
Though, the visuals are where this short shines. Aside from the production design, which hits a pretty decent nail on the head, all things considered, Babu’s cinematography, lighting design, and Vipooshan Gangatharan’s color palette all succeed at creating bold compositions that naturally hold your attention. However, the scattershot moments of visual interest are bogged down by poor conveyance and blocking issues, sometimes making it a chore to understand what is being shown. On the flip side, the background audio is almost too constant, with the majority of the soundtrack being dominated by (what I can only assume is) an incessantly ticking clock.
There are many seeds of potential lurking about in this short, and it is obvious that the creative team behind Babu was invested in what they were doing. However, while A Candle in the Dark possesses an interesting premise and a handful of truly impressive visuals, it falls apart as quickly as it’s established, and not much can be done to save it.
"…the scattershot moments of visual interest are bogged down by poor conveyance and blocking issues..."