Summer in 2016 churned out surprisingly decent scares and Lights Out is no exception. I’m going to be completely honest. I had no idea Lights Out was a three-minute short film before making its way to become a full length feature film. The first time I heard about it was when the trailer played during the premiere of Conjuring 2. And even at that time, I thought it was a ‘turn-off-your-phone’ spinoff conjuring ad. The trailer was no help in cementing its position as a potential summer horror hit. But for a film which received so little attention and marketing, it flourishes with its simple but unique and inventive premise despite a few questionable parts of the screenplay which left a little more to be desired from.
Lights Out follows Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) who left her mentally ill mother (Maria Bello) as a young girl because she could no longer handle the torment she was experiencing every night from a ghostly entity which she couldn’t see, touch or feel. This one (wo)man reign of terror only appeared (you guessed it) in the dark. As a grown up now, those childhood fears are long behind her. But when her little brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman) starts to encounter the same unexplainable and harrowing events, she is called back to action to reconnect with her estranged and fractured family in order to fight this demoniac monster and face their fears once and for all.
The film starts off brilliantly with its grim setting which sets the tone for it perfectly. A dark, eerie industrial building with dim, flickering lights and faceless mannequins flooding the floor. It doesn’t get any creepier than that. Not to mention the show’s sinister supernatural antagonist. Manifesting itself as a female figure, it makes its presence felt right from the get-go with its cold-blooded antics and blood-curdling noises. It lives and breathes the title of the show. You can totally expect the film to hammer home the idea on countless incidents throughout that although you are protected in the light, there’s no guarantee that the lights will remained switched on as this hellish being will use its mystical powers to rain suplex city all over you when it f***s with the lights.
After seeing Conjuring 1 and 2, the horror genre which is fiendishly casted through the family dynamic feels strangely familiar and more often than not, far for its own good. Lights Out is an unfortunate victim of that. The characters brainlessly walking into the most obvious of trouble on numerous occasions felt incredibly tiring and this was apparent after occurring 2-3 times. The audience in the theatre just let out a huge frustrated sigh when a character walked into the slightest of sounds just to have her ass handed to her via a supernatural beatdown. It felt way too convenient for scare tactics and instead of wringing out my inner feminine scream, I simply rolled my eyes and chuckled at the character’s inevitable fate.
With light being the main element in the film which guides the characters decisions, it is used to inspiring effect. Light utilized from the most unexpected of sources, ranging from a smartphone screen to the car’s headlights keeps the characters safe from paranormal peril, making room for a much needed breather.
Despite being a secondary character, Rebecca’s boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia) is the unforeseen unsung hero in the story. His consistent presence and crucial acts in the film ups the ante, especially during the endgame when we’re desperately rooting for the family’s survival. But don’t forget about Bret who come hell or high water, has stuck by them throughout, making him significant in the entire ordeal.
In short, Lights Out is a fun and entertaining entry into the Hollywood horror genre and for a film from a debut director, David F. Sandberg, it is unnerving, intense and pretty good. Rarely occurring choppy writing and occasional uncreative scare sequences may sometimes take the best of it away but it is enough to make me contemplate about having to leave my lights on at night albeit wasting electricity and my money. Here’s hoping for the next Sandberg project without ending up like Fantastic Four you know who.
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Screenplay by: Eric Heisserer
Based on: Lights Out by David F. Sandberg
Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, Maria Bello
Running time: 81 minutes