The Mancunion

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Lift-Off Film Festival 2017 Review: Northern Lights

17 year old Nicholas Connor debut feature film


Nicholas Connor breathes new life into the young-adult drama genre with his latest film Northern Lights, featuring an unusual realism owed to his young age. There is a light dusting of issues throughout but overall it demonstrates a raw natural filmmaking ability and hints towards a very bright future.

We follow the story of best friends Rob and Emma as they journey through high school towards their GCSE exams. Rob seeks more than friendship, with his feelings for her made clear from the start but a combination of not wanting to ruin what they have and a lack of confidence to ask her out prevent him from acting upon it.

Emma’s little sister Mia easily notices though and relentlessly teases him for it, almost forcing his hand a couple of times. Running parallel to this is Emma’s deeply-rooted anxiety issues initiated by her mother’s death. This severely impacts her ability to enjoy life and it is only in brief moments that she finds true happiness, often with Rob.

For an independent film without the budget to sign well-established actors, I was shocked at the level of performances and versatility shown, most notably the younger actors. Katie Quinn and Rhys Cadman who play the lead characters perfectly capture the high-school romance in a way that just is not seen on the big screen today.

Stares that last a moment too long and both unknowingly liking the other are often exaggerated to allow even the most uninterested to follow. Conner avoids this by making the film his way rather than pandering to the audience, a strategy that consistently leads to films of far greater quality.

Sadly the acting falls short in the form of Emma’s father. The gulf in ability was most apparent during an argument between Emma and him and resulted in the scene lacking the entire emotional power intended. Quinn’s transition from happiness to tears was absolutely phenomenal and exposed the weaknesses in his performance, a crying shame given the high standard set by the fellow cast members.

Dialogue is at the core of the film generating some of the most evocative scenes while also being the source of some of the negative moments. A perfect instance of the former is during the psychiatric’s appointment. Emma is asked to describe how a panic attack feels for her personally and what follows is a harrowingly accurate explanation which leaves both her and the audience with a sense of nervousness.

The slow zoom in of the camera as Emma relaxes and opens up more and more really aids in emphasising the true extent of her anxiety. Where the dialogue falls flat though is in the normal everyday conversations. The pause between one person finishing talking and the next one starting was at times a little too long, resulting in it feeling unnatural. However minor issues such as this one do not detract from the overall viewing experience and can be easily rectified in Connor’s future films.

The emotional intent of most films are clear cut, either making you mostly laugh or cry. It takes something truly special to do both and Connor achieves this effortlessly demonstrating a impressive control of human emotion. With more filmmaking experience and higher budgets the few creases within this film can be ironed out.

Not just that, but the fantastic cinematography and editing present in this film can blossom further throughout his career. The potential to reach Loachian height is not out of reach and at only seventeen years of age, that is a very exciting prospect.