Killing the guilt in Neon Lights: a confusing, ambitious journey of family trauma

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Neon Lights. // Courtesy Momentum Pictures

Neon Lights, directed by Rouzbeh Heydari, is simultaneously a moody, slow-burn slasher and an exploration of psychotherapy and traumatic family relationships. Writer Dana Abraham also stars as Clay Amani, the CEO of a successful healthcare startup. After a disastrous television interview, Amani decides to retreat to his rural estate for an off-the-grid getaway with brothers James and Benny (Stephen Tracey, Rene Escobar), as well as Benny’s wife Clarissa and daughter Blair (Brit MacRae, Erika Swayze). 

All is not well in the woods, however, as the members of the family meet their demise one by one. What secrets is Clay hiding in his mansion? And who is the enigmatic Denver Kane (Kim Coates) lurking around the estate—Clay’s colleague? A parent? The Devil Himself?

The film does an excellent job of capturing the specific tension that comes with spending extended time in a remote area with estranged relatives. Clay enforces separate bedrooms for all, even the married Benny and Clarissa. Certain areas of the home are off-limits, allegedly living quarters for unseen housekeepers. Plus, there are suicidal magpies, strict dinner times, and a mysterious glowing shack in the woods. You know, typical family reunion stuff.

The cast does an admirable job of recreating family chemistry, even if it feels like each family member is checking off a box on the list of Sibling Tropes, specifically cocky cokehead club owner, ex-con who talks with his fists and khaki pants beta sibling. About halfway through, though, the performances really gel.

There were a few points in the film where the story started to lose its way. A few plot threads that seemed fundamental to unlocking the mystery are left disappointingly unresolved. Even at the film’s worst, the beautiful cinematography and set design kept my attention. Not all of the twists truly land, but there are still plenty of surprises that make Neon Lights an overall fascinating effort.

Neon Lights is available now on VOD.

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Neon Lights. // Courtesy Momentum Pictures

Categories: Movies