|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 09 August 2005|
“Lightning Bug” is an appealing independent film, full of humor and lifelike scares as it tells an unorthodox but quite plausible coming-of-age tale in the Deep South. Based largely on the upbringing of writer/director Rob Hall, the movie chronicles some pivotal events in the upbringing of teenager Green Groves (Bret Harrison), stuck in a small Alabama town with almost more churches than people. Green’s desire to become a special effects makeup artist, creating monsters for the movies, couldn’t be more incomprehensible to most of the townsfolk than if he announced that he wanted to grow up to be the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Consequently, a good portion of the neighbors think the kid is a Satanist. This, however, is far from Green’s only problem, or even his worst one. His budding relationship with gorgeous video store clerk Angevin (Laura Prepon) is scowled upon by her ultra-religious mother (Shannon Eubanks), while Green’s own mother (Ashley Laurence), a well-meaning alcoholic, has taken up with a man (Kevin Gage) who becomes more vicious and abusive as time goes by.
Green’s story will be familiar, specifically to folks who grew up reading the how-to articles in Fangoria and more generally to those who spent adolescence in thrall to a passion that led to a career though at the time seemed weird to outsiders. The quirks and details of Hall’s film give “Lightning Bug” an authenticity and an originality that draw us into its world; it’s beguiling and horrifying and hopeful all at once. There are some hilarious riffs, courtesy of Green’s vocation and his love life, and some devastating moments due to Gage’s alarmingly convincing portrait of a batterer who is sure of his own rightness.
Hall, who has a real-life background as a special effects makeup artist, knows his stuff and has a freshness to his storytelling that is lacking in many other films about teen ambition, avoiding the sports/singing clichés. He also gets naturalistic performances from his cast. Harrison and Prepon are appealing, Laurence is touching in her character’s tentative efforts at self-improvement and Eubanks finds a core of sympathy in Angevin’s rigid mother.
The 5.1 mix is laudable, especially considering the low budget. When cars stop in the foreground, the rear speakers emit tiny sighs as the vehicles settle, giving us a sense that we’re present in the environment. The photography is sharp, though dark scenes are sometimes really dark (this seems to be a quality of film itself rather than the video transfer).
There are a lot of enjoyable extras on the DVD, including a lively commentary with Hall, producer Lisa Waugh and actresses Prepon and Laurence, with stories about the second assistant director who obligingly stepped into a small acting part that required flashing the camera, fake horror movie posters and lots of discussion of the songs utilized on the soundtrack. Josh Todd of the band Buckcherry has a supporting role here and one of the band’s songs turns up on the track. Hall also does a separate solo commentary, which has some insight (though few on-the-nose revelations) about how closely the movie’s events parallel his actual experiences. A making-of featurette has interviews with all of the main cast members and Kevin Kinney’s music video is a solid bit of rock and roll.
“Lightning Bug” is a film that, because it is about something idiosyncratic and keenly observed, is likely to touch more people than movies that are calculated attempts to be “universal.” This is one of the better pictures out there about the singular stresses, terrors and triumphs of trying to make it to adulthood in one piece, one eye on the goal ahead and one eye on what’s surrounding you on all sides.