The train rumbles toward you, and then it’s over you, throwing sparks. It’s a short train, but it’s nonetheless a harrowing seven seconds – looking, sounding, and feeling uncomfortably real.
That’s because, on a practical level, it is real.
This happens less than 10 minutes into the new, nationally distributed horror movie Nightlight by writers/directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the filmmaking duo from the Quad Cities now based in Los Angeles.
“That whole sequence was a lot of fun to figure out,” Beck said in a recent phone interview. The special-effects team proposed using computer animation for the train, he said, but he and Woods asked: “Could we actually get a real freight train on these tracks?”
We’ve been introduced to five teens who’ve come to a supposedly haunted forest for “flashlight games.” One involves laying down a flashlight on railroad ties, running down the tracks to a specific point, and then running back and grabbing the flashlight. There’s not much to it ... except for the train.
This bit lasts roughly a minute and 40 seconds, done in a single shot.
“The scene starts with the train incredibly far away, [and] it just gets closer and closer,” Woods said.
We can only hear the train’s horn as the first three people complete the task – getting louder with each blast. With the fourth teen, we can see the headlight peeking through the trees as the engine comes around a bend.
And after Shelby, our protagonist, puts her flashlight on the ties, we see the train itself, with her sprinting toward it and then back toward her flashlight.
She jumps away just before the train hits her, but her flashlight – which belonged to a friend who committed suicide and provides the point of view for all the movie’s action – remains on the tracks, and the audience gets an unsettling understanding of what it would feel like to be under a freight train moving at full speed.