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Review: Light of My Life

August 9, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

After a mysterious illness wiped out the female half of the human population a decade ago, a father (Casey Affleck) must keep his 11-year-old daughter Rag (Anna Pniowsky) hidden in the woods from the remnants of society and disguised as a boy, with other men threatening to do her harm.

This is the high concept premise behind Light of My Life, a minimalistic post-apocalyptic drama written and directed by Casey Affleck, that takes a haunting and subdued approach to its end of the world setup and is all the better for it. For long stretches of the film, it’s just Affleck and Pniowsky alone onscreen, and they are remarkable together.

Affleck’s world weariness is matched by Pniowsky’s inquisitive nature, and their textured, nuanced performances are what anchor the film. The opening scene is a whopping twelve minutes long, as Affleck’s nameless character lies beside his daughter in a tent and tells her a rambling bedtime story that becomes a loose version of Noah’s Ark involving a male and female fox. It’s a sequence that beautifully sets the tone for the rest of the film, giving us all of the exposition that we need for the story while also establishing the deep bond between our two main characters.

Rag was the last girl to be born before her mother (Elisabeth Moss) passed away from this “female plague,” an illness that Rag seemingly has immunity for, but she has no experience with other girls and no female influences in her life. She is eleven now and still looks young, but puberty hangs over her like a ticking time bomb that threatens her ability to hide in this man’s world. When it’s finally brought up late in the film what this sort of upbringing might be doing to her development, it’s what we’ve already been thinking all along. Rag’s entire existence is built around living in the shadows and she is constantly on the run, moving from place to place with her father. They are nomads, not by choice but by necessity.

The film has obvious shades of last year’s masterful survival drama Leave No Trace, another story of a father and daughter living off the grid, and comparisons could also be made to other stripped down, fall of civilization films like Children of Men, The Road, and Into the Forest. There are also moments that suggest what a less gimmicky version of A Quiet Place might have looked like. But Affleck still finds ways to make his own dystopic vision feel unique, and he brings a rugged, naturalistic sensibility to Light of My Life that is in line with his performative voice as an actor.

Shot in British Columbia, and beautifully framed by cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, the film often unfolds through long takes, mixing intimate closeups with master shots that allow us to observe the character interactions from a distance. This is a completely subdued and understated take on the post-apocalyptic genre, and it’s often captivating to watch, drawing us into its dying world with a completely unique father-daughter story that is wonderfully realized by Affleck and Pniowsky.

Light of My Life is now playing in limited release at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto, and is also available to watch digitally and on demand as of today.

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