LIGHT AS A FEATHER
Starring: Liana Liberato, Haley Ramm, Brianne Tju, Jordan Rodrigues, Dylan Sprayberry, Adriyan Rae, Katelyn Nacon, Brent Rivera, Ajiona Alexus, Peyton List
Directors: Alexis Ostrander (Episodes 1-2, 9-10), Chad Lowe (Episodes 3-4), Jeffrey W. Byrd (Episodes 5-6), Geary McLeod (Episodes 7-8, 13-14), Joanna Kerns (Episodes 11-12), Shiri Appleby (Episodes 15-16), Amanda Row (Episodes 17-18)
Writers: R. Lee. Fleming Jr. (Episodes 1, 2, 9, 10-11), Seth M. Sherwood (Episodes 4, 6, 8-9, 13, 18), Eileen Shim (Episodes 3, 7, 12, 17), Michael Reisz (Episodes 5), Sarah Fiori (Episodes 8), William H. Brown (Episodes 14), Pornsak Pichetshote (Episodes 15), Suzanne Keilly (Episodes 16)
Based on the book: Light as a Feather by Zoe Aarsen
Production Company: Grammnet Productions, Wattpad Studios, AwesomenessTV
“Here’s the four straight years of pre-gaming with the dead!”
[This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.]
Board games, card games, party games, or any game for that matter. We love them and play them. Old ones and new ones, they can lead to hours of entertainment. And if entertainment is involved, there’s a chance Hollywood will take a look. Some board games have already been adapted into movies, like Clue (1985) and Battleship (2012). There have also been non-board games. Tag (2018) was an adaptation of its namesake, even if partly due to the real-life story behind it. And the horror genre is involved with Would you Rather (2012) and Truth or Dare (2018), two well done movies. Hulu has given it a try as well with Light as a Feather (2019).
Used not only in the campy The Craft (1996) but also at sleepovers worldwide, “light as a feather, stiff as a board” is a game where one person lies down while others sit around them. They all place their fingers below the prone person while one of them states how they will die. Once their death is predicted, the participants repeat the “incantation” (light as a feather, stiff as board), at which point the prone person is meant to levitate. Aside from the physics which explain how levitation can occur, it’s really meant to “scare” the participants as they’re told of their death.
This adaptation begins with five teenage girls meeting at the local cemetery on Halloween. It’s a yearly tradition to mark the loss of Jennie, their friend and McKenna’s twin sister. Unlike previous years, they invite a new girl, Violet. As they all share in a few drinks, Violet suggests they play “light as a feather, stiff as a board.” Emboldened by the context (Halloween, cemetery, drinking), one by one, they have their deaths predicted. However, what they thought would be an innocent game turns out to be the opposite as the death predictions become reality. But who’s responsible? Is it one of them? Or maybe even some supernatural entity?
Light as a Feather was conceived as a web TV show, with episodes about 22 minutes long. Aimed at teens — although not inaccessible to older viewers — the show starts off quick, determined, and strong. The game played at the cemetery provides all the necessary ingredients for a thriller/horror show. The potential is clearly there, but did it work?
The premise of the show is simple enough, and it’s fodder for plenty of creative death scenes. The story begins quickly and with purpose. Playing the game within the first 20 minutes gets the girls to behave and act in ways to drive the suspense. Like a whodunit, many questions arise, enhancing the viewing experience. Why is Jennie dead? Why are they commemorating in a cemetery? Why does someone or something want the girls dead? The show certainly doesn’t lack questions.
The length of each episode is enjoyable and, quite frankly, perfect. It’s well-paced and good for a quick viewing. If presented with a small window, commuting, or wanting a quick distraction, one episode is easy to watch. Then again, if binge-watching is your thing, season 1 is under four hours and season 2, part 1, is just under three. But aside from the practical aspect of a short runtime, the format itself helps to create suspense. It passes quickly, almost like rapid short breaths that result from fear. Whether intentional or not, the effect works.
Care was put into the special effects as well. The death scenes are realistic. And whether real or a figment of their imagination, the supernatural element also looks sharp. They neither cheapen the show nor do they look amateurish. And the overall editing was solid. The transition between scenes taking place in either the past, present, or future was smooth and clear. There’s no question which timeline is being viewed.
Thoughts on Season 1
The simplicity of the story turns out to be its Achilles’ heel. Only four girls participate in “light as a feather, stiff as a board.” This gives the producers only a few potential victims. Season 1 has 10 episodes, but not all the players die! This results in having to fill all of the episodes with something. Unfortunately, that “something” doesn’t seem to have been thought out well enough. There’s repetition and a few too many soap opera-type situations — and that’s an issue.
Also frustrating is the decision-making that goes on. It takes little time to determine that Violet has some kind of personal vendetta against McKenna. In fact, all four main characters figure this out. However, that they continue to fall for her shenanigans is absurd and downright ridiculous. And it creates dumb situations that are, frankly, insulting to viewers. Either make the characters unaware of Violet’s underhandedness or make them react appropriately.
Their investigative decisions are questionable as well. Knowing the danger they are in, why insist on visiting strange houses alone? Why place themselves in situations that are so obviously linked to their predicted deaths? Scream (1996) set a precedent about self-awareness and the horror genre clichés. Unfortunately, it appears that the writers chose to ignore this. The characters appear oblivious to the reckless danger they place themselves in. And in the rare cases where someone comments or raises doubt, it’s summarily ignored by everyone.
Though the actors perform relatively well, Liana Liberato (The Best of Me, If I Stay) should have been given the liberty to be more emotional, especially given all that is happening. Instead of being cast as emo or goth, she’s more like a preppy, in-crowd teen. But her mannerisms don’t always fit the image. Her versatility is on display in the first couple of episodes, but as the season progresses, she becomes more brooding and dark.
Haley Ramm (Red State, Banana Split) plays Violet, one of the better characters in the show. She walks a fine line between innocence and guilt. At times kind and selfless, while at other times manipulative, evil, and even insane, Ramm performs well. Olivia (Peyton List, Jessie, Cobra Kai) is fun, spoiled, and full of life, but suppresses the stress of all the pressures. Meanwhile, Candace (Ajiona Alexus, 13 Reasons Why, Acrimony), who’s first to peg Violet as manipulative, has the most public breakdown. Her frustrations from being ignored as she warns her friends echoes viewer frustrations. Lastly, Alex (Brianne Tju, Scream: The TV Series, Life After First Failure) is an intriguing character because she defies predictability.
Rounding out the main cast are Jordan Rodrigues (Camp, Dance Academy), Dylan Sprayberry (Teen Wolf, Man of Steel), and Dorian Brown Pham (Wilfred). Essentially, the biggest frustration with all the characters is their lack of development, in part due to the repetitive nature of some traits and behaviors. They quickly become predictable. A more fleshed-out story, with a clear plan as to the direction the characters needed to take following the game, would have gone a long way in making this show stand out. The simplicity of the story handcuffed the writers, limiting the narrative’s evolution.
Despite some of the issues of season 1, the story is enticing and generates plenty of suspense to merit ongoing viewing. In the first few episodes, the story develops quickly. Although the pace eventually slows, the story plods along, leading to some satisfying reveals. The decision-making is suspect at best, and not even arguing that the characters are teenagers can save this from being an issue. That said, the show isn’t long and doesn’t require a dedicated time commitment to watch. This compensates and allows viewers to overlook some of the issues.
Thoughts on Season 2 (the first half)
Season 2 of Light as a Feather follows the events last seen in season 1. It has the same cast of characters we previously met, plus a few new ones. The curse is still alive, and it threatens to carry out the death predictions. However, one of the most exciting aspects of season 2 is that many of the problems plaguing the first season have been addressed.
Pacing has vastly improved. There are still a few slower moments, but they don’t distract or feel like filler. There’s an addressed necessity this time and less repetition. This improved focus is partly attributable to one simple fact: a new game is played. But this time around, it is with expendable characters. With less invested viewer interest, it is easier for the writers to kill them off without significant consequence to the continuity of the main story. And more kills just ups the horror factor!
Another vast improvement is the direction of the story. Rather than simply trying to find out who might be trying to kill them, there is more depth to the story. So many inter-related subplots are driving this new season’s arc. What is happening to Isaac? Why is McKenna experiencing blackouts? What’s the history of the curse and how can it be stopped? What’s the deal with Violet? Alex gets romantic. Trey does as well. And through flashbacks, some of last season’s characters make a return. There’s very little downtime, which benefits the show.
Nevertheless, the show still has a few issues. The attitude exhibited by McKenna, Alex, and Trey toward Violet is like a table tennis game. In one scene, they trust her, and then in the next, they don’t, followed by another trust one, and so on. Reciprocally, Violet repeats her mantra that she simply is trying to make amends and help them. Once or twice would be tolerable, but it’s incessant, considering it’s been going on since the first season. It’s disappointing because it’s unnecessary.
There are also a few too many coincidences. This new, more complex storyline is great, but it’s constrained by the episodes’ short running time. Perhaps it explains why the show grew from 10 episodes in the first season to 16 in this one. Nonetheless, there are some contrived situations that feel too convenient.
Lastly, what’s with the death wish these teens appear to harbor? Over and over, they return to playing the game. They’ve known since early on that playing it has deadly results, yet they tried again in the mausoleum in season 1. In season 2, after it’s been played three times, they are still under the impression that playing again would help them understand and maybe even get rid of the curse. A little more originality and creativity would go a long way in this case.
Light as a Feather is a fun, easy-going, campy show. Although somewhat weak at times, it offers a good story that is paced relatively well, especially with the short episode length. There’s plenty of suspense, and while not a full-out horror show, there are enough morsels of it. Ultimately, though aimed at a teenage market, the show deals with mature subject matter that even older viewers can appreciate and enjoy. The first eight episodes of the new season have aired, with the next eight to be released on October 4th.