Do cinematographic lighting techniques affect film viewers’ empathic reactions? We investigated the effect of high- and low-contrast lighting on affective empathy toward depicted actors. Forty one participants watched short clips of professional actors expressing happiness, anger, and disgust, and rated the valence and intensity of their own and actors’ emotional states. Affective empathy was assessed through the extent of the facial mimicry of actors’ emotional expressions and quantified through electromyographic activation of expression-specific facial muscles. We managed to elicit facial mimicry for happiness and anger, but not for disgust. High-contrast lighting further amplified empathic mimicry for happy but not for angry expressions. High-contrast lighting also amplified subjective feelings elicited by angry and disgusted but not happy expressions. We conclude that high-contrast lighting can be an effective means for influencing film viewers’ empathic reactions through the low road to empathy, even as the overall impact of lighting also relies on the high road to empathy.