When the Lights Went Out – Review

Worth seeing: as a supposedly real-life poltergeist haunting that feels somewhat flat, with an incoherent plot and unconvincing performances
Director:Pat Holden
Featuring:Kate Ashfield, Steven Waddington, Tasha Connor, Andrea Lowe, Craig Parkinson, Gary Lewis, Martin Compston
Length:86 minutes
Released:14th September 2012


In 1974, Len (Steven Waddington) moves, with his wife Jenny (Kate Ashfield) and daughter Sally (Tasha Connor), to their new home on a council estate in West Yorkshire.

Sally isn’t the most gregarious of girls, but she manages to make a new friend in another local loner, a girl of a similar age whose mother has banned her from entering Sally’s new house.

One day, when Len and Jenny go out with their best friends, alone in the house, Sally gets the feeling she’s not alone. In the days that follow, she sees things moving of their own accord, light fittings swinging and doors slamming. When she tells her parents, they don’t believe her; Jenny thinks she’s making up stories, because she doesn’t like the new house and wants to move out again.

Len is a little more open to the idea, possibly as he can spot a quick buck, inviting locals into his haunted house and selling the story to the local paper.

But as the weeks go by, the hauntings become more violent, until adults are being pulled up the stairs and being thrown against walls.

Sally seems to be the clue to the ghost; can she find out who is haunting them and why – and how they can restore calm and normality to this otherwise quite Yorkshire suburb.


This film is based on what purports to be the true story of one of Britain’s most violent poltergeists. If you believe in that kind of thing, this is a remarkable story of a dark presence, haunting a Pontefract housing estate, and it’s surprising that no-one has tried to put it on the big screen before now.

But for a film whose story – true or not – has the potential to be shocking and frightening, it seems to follow too many cliches in its direction; far too much of the tension comes from creepy music, rather than clever camera angles or editing, for example. Have creepy music on the soundtrack and regardless of what’s happening on screen, you can unnerve the audience.

Narratively, there are a few too many convenient moments or incoherent plot points for the story to feel at all convincing; a mother who insists on staying in a house she knows to be haunted would not slap her daughter and call her a “wicked cow” for allowing her only friend into the house, while she was unconscious, no less – the idea that the such a fearsome spectre should choose to haunt a semi-detached house on a council estate, when the place he met his own grisly death, hundreds of years earlier, is still standing, just around the corner – out of nowhere, a priest is blackmailed into carrying out an exorcism.

The casting is also slightly peculiar, with two of the most familiar characters in this West Yorkshire town – Martin Compston’s teacher and the priest, played by Gary Lewis – having been transplanted in from Scotland. As is often the case, the biggest names inhabit the smallest roles, which makes them feel more like they’re doing favours for a friend than fulfilling true narrative needs.

Whether or not the story at its heart is true, the film-makers certainly present a convincing portrayal of a working class neighbourhood in 1970s England – down to brown walls, orange cushions and avocado bathroom.

But the film itself fails to match its lofty ambitions, feeling somewhat flat, possibly because it’s hard to squeeze several years worth of hauntings into an 86 minute film. And the performances lack the authenticity required to bring the ghost story to life.