Lights Out, 2016.
Directed by David F. Sandberg.
Starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Billy Burke, Alexander DiPersia, Lotta Losten, Alicia Vela-Bailey and Andi Osho.
A young boy is haunted by the malevolent spirit that drove his older sister away, forcing her to return home and help save her brother.
Based on a popular YouTube short film that appeared a few years ago, Lights Out is David F. Sandberg’s debut full-length movie and shows that the filmmaker may be a future genre name to watch as he clearly has a grasp of what makes us (or the young versions of us) scared once the lights go out. Of course, it helps that The Conjuring/Insidious mastermind James Wan is on board as a producer and you can see his fingerprints over a lot of the movie, especially in the framing, use of lighting and the jump scares. However, just because this is what is negatively referred to as a PG-13 horror movie (15 in the UK) doesn’t mean it cannot be terrifying, as Sam Raimi proved a while back with Drag Me To Hell, and if this is what Sandberg can do within those restrictions then perhaps there is a bigger, badder 18 certificate monster waiting to be unleashed.
Martin (Gabriel Bateman – Annabelle) is a young boy whose mother Sophie (Maria Bello – A History of Violence) is suffering from depression and spends her time seemingly talking to herself. After the death of his father Paul (Billy Burke – Drive Angry) Martin finds his mother in her bedroom talking to nobody but once the lights go out Martin sees the sinister figure of Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey – Hostel: Part III), who keeps trying to attack him but seems to disappear once the lights are switched on. After falling asleep in class Martin is collected by his older step-sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer – The Grudge 2) and her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia – I Am Legend) and taken back home where Sophie’s condition has worsened, so Rebecca takes Martin back to her apartment but that night Diana appears in the darkness to Rebecca, forcing the feisty young woman to face up to what made her leave home in the first place, protect her younger brother and try to reconnect with her mother, who appears to hold the key to who or what Diana is and how she can be stopped.
After a strong start that basically redoes the short film but inside a warehouse instead of an apartment, Lights Out does dip a little in pace as we are introduced properly to Martin and Sophie, and Rebecca and Bret. It does take a while for the film to settle into its groove as Martin is pulled between his home and Rebecca’s apartment and during this time we’re not given too much in the way of explanation of what went on between Rebecca and her mother. It’s a little distracting at first as you’re not given many reasons to care for any of these people but as the film goes on and builds towards its final act a few details are given about Sophie’s past, her state of mind and who Diana is, and the deliberate lack of details in the first half of the film begins to make sense. By the end, we’re still not 100% sure about why Diana became what she became – and that will likely come in a sequel if David F.Sandberg goes down that route – but what we’re given is enough and, much like Freddy Krueger in the original A Nightmare On Elm Street, just having her name and her silhouette lurking in the shadows provides enough terror to carry the movie.
In the past couple of years we’ve had fairly high profile horror movies that have tapped into basic childhood fears – the aforementioned Insidious, the inexplicably popular It Follows and the from-out-of-nowhere The Babadook to name the obvious ones – and Lights Out follows very much in the same vein but without feeling forced or like it is trying to rewrite the horror genre by simply tweaking a few tropes here and there. It is quite simply a horror movie that does exactly that – it horrifies, and although there is deeper subtext there about the nature of depression and how it can affect the whole family the film works just as well if you take it at face value. The lights on/off thing does start to wear a little thin by about the third or fourth time of somebody trying it but there are some inventive takes on it as Diana attacks Bret while he is trying to get to his car that do push the idea of quick thinking to its absolute limit but this is a horror film and not a documentary, and the boundaries of reality have already been breached although the film does do well to stick to its own rules and not go too far into silly flights of fancy, which it could quite easily have done. Overall, Lights Out is a modern 15/PG-13 certificate horror movie that actually works without having to pander to a teenage audience, taking in influences from J-horror and classic supernatural genre staples like Poltergeist and The Entity without directly emulating any of them and although jump scares are generally seen as a cheats way out of having to come up with anything more substantial, Lights Out does it without feeling cheap or exploitative. Without question one of the most effective horror movies of the year.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★