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Tentative Light

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It's dark. The person we're watching is running out of light. The match is burning down. The candle's nearly done. Their flashlight's flickering. In any case, darkness is imminent. These are scenes often played for dramatic tension. Directors use these scenes in horror movies. Other times the lack of reliable lighting might be an inconvenience for the protagonist in a slapstick comedy for whom everything goes wrong. A hasty scramble to ignite a Hard-to-Light Fire may follow.

Ten-Second Flashlight is the "gameplay mechanic" version of this. Contrast with Blackout Basement, where fading light is a level's gimmick.


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  • Emo Phillips: "What I do is hard; they say the number one fear in the country is public speaking. I would have thought the number one fear would be being Buried Alive with a severed head — and just before your flashlight dies, its eyes open. But no, apparently, it's the public speaking thing."

    Films Live-Action 
  • Beni's fate in The Mummy is sealed as his torch burns out, leaving him at the mercy of the flesh eating scarab beetles surrounding him.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark: Indy and Marion are trapped in a tomb of poisonous snakes, and their torches are running out.
  • The Fifth Element: Korben Dallas needs fire to unlock part of the weapon that can take down the Big Bad. He has one match.
    Korben: Nobody breathe.
  • Darkness Falls uses this a lot, as the villain cannot stand any sort of light.
  • Doom does this with Goat's flashlight, shortly after they split up to cover more ground.
  • The Pact: Light fixtures and flashlights flicker and go out. The medium Stevie says that something is "taking the light."
  • Housebound: The lights frequently flicker or shut off. Subverted, when we learn this isn't caused by a ghost, but by Eugene living in the walls and mooching electricity.
  • The Resurrected, a 1991 film adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, recreates the scene where the hero has to navigate his way out of a Mad Scientist Laboratory of failed Body Horror experiments after dropping his lamp. He's got a flashlight whose battery is on its last legs, and a pocketbook of matches. Fortunately the final match is enough to get him back to where he saw another hurricane lamp sitting on a table earlier.

  • In the Klingon-centered Star Trek novel The Final Reflection, the protagonist and two of his officers are Locked in a Freezer by a traitor. One of the officers adjusts the display on her communicator to provide enough light to see by; its battery gives out just as they make their escape.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Chernobyl: Three structural engineers in radiation suits venture into the lower levels of reactor 4 to assess the damage to the cooling pumps. All three are issued flashlights powered by 12-volt carbon-zinc batteries. All three lights fail within the first minute, due to the massive radiation making the air conductive. The engineers must feel their way around the pipes and debris in total darkness and hip-deep in heavy water.
  • Doctor Who: The Weeping Angels have the ability to feed on power from a distance, including artificially-generated light. The fact that your only defence against them is the ability to see makes this absolutely terrifying.
  • For All Mankind. When astronaut Molly Cobb is cast adrift in space, she's too far away to be seen except for her flashlight. Then her flashlight goes out after she orbits through the night side of the Earth. So the spacecraft then turns on its beacon lights, enabling Molly is able to guide them to her.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "By Inferno's Light". At one point the light that Garak is working with becomes temperamental, which is bad news for him because in the confined space of the access tunnel he's working in, he's barely holding off a panic attack as is (he has severe claustrophobia). When the light flickers out, the panic attack ensues, and he's out of commission for a while.
  • The X-Files, "Darkness Falls": Loggers accidentally release an ancient swarm of killer insects, who wrap the loggers in cocoons and drain them dry. Fortunately, the insects only attack in the dark. Unfortunately, Mulder and Scully end up trapped in the mountains with a dying light bulb and no other light source.

    Video Games 
  • The First Encounter Assault Recon series has lots of setpieces with flickering lights when paranormal activity is involved, including those of the Heads-Up Display itself. Hell, in the Vivendi expansions Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate, your headlamp will flicker along with the HUD, go out completely, and won't be usable until the supernatural moment ends. In F.E.A.R. 2, the headlamp flickers at the slightest paranormal activity.
  • In Halo, you can turn on a flashlight to see the Flood coming, but in Halo 2 it'll automatically turn off after a while.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, many of the game's dungeons are dark enough that a light source is required. The torches and lanterns you can use have a finite, usually short duration. Spells such as Light and Night Eye are available, but are also temporary unless you enchant them onto an item as a constant effect.
  • Half-Life in general makes use of dark environments and the old Ten-Second Flashlight, but Half-Life 2: Episode One in particular features zombie-infested environments that are often pitch black; in some sections you have to use your torch to light up enemies for Alyx to attack, in others you have to make use of flares, flaming barrels and flaming zombies to try and keep the area lit so you can see attacking zombies who aren't straight in front of you. Things can get quite tense when your last light source is burning out, your torch is out of juice and you've only killed most of the zombies...
  • In Escape from Butcher Bay, Riddick is usually equipped with an Infinite Flashlight mounted on a shotgun. After he falls into the Pit, however, his flashlight's battery is damaged, and he has six minutes to run through a maze of tunnels, fighting off wailing, naked ghouls, while his only source of light gradually dims. When Riddick finally receives his eyeshine, it's a godsend.

    Web Videos 
  • Played for Laughs in the "Fight Day" episode of Idiotsitter. Housekeeper Joy has taken Billie into a narrow passageway in the Russel mansion, and is talking to her by candlelight — but she holds it close to her face and keeps blowing it out with her words, prompting an irritated "fuck me!"

    Western Animation 
  • From the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Cave of Two Lovers": Aang and Katara are separated from the others. They haven't found their way out of the cave and their torch is burning down to nothing. Turns out, the key to finding their way through the cave was to let their torches burn out, allowing them to see the dimly glowing crystals in the cave that marked the path.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "Dooku Captured", Obi-Wan's lightsaber flickers and goes out entirely in the cave, which is a bit more foreboding than a regular flashlight doing the same.


Video Example(s):


Escaping the Well of Souls

Indiana Jones realizes there is a hidden room in the Well of Souls by noticing that the snakes are coming into the main room from holes along one wall.

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Main / AWayOutOfACaveIn

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