Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Theresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Maria Bello, and Billy Burke
Who’s afraid of the dark? It’s a fear that still motivates a genre of writers and filmmakers to create all manner of ghost, monster, stalker, demon that are living under the bed, inside the closet, or outside the front door. It motivated director David F. Sandberg to make one of the best short films in some time, a film that functions on the simple premise of lights on and lights off. “Lights Out” was the name of the short film and remains the name of the feature length studio film hitting theaters this weekend. And it’s sure to make a whole group of people think twice before they turn the lights out.
Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is a young boy living with his mother Sophie (Maria Bello), but everything isn’t all right. Whenever Martin turns off the lights a shadowy creature appears, when he turns the lights on it disappears. Every time he does this the creature gets closer and closer. This leads to Martin keeping the lights on and not sleeping while his mother continues to grow more distant and more consumed by her depression.
After Martin falls asleep in class, and his mother does not respond to calls to pick him up, his older sister Rebecca (Theresa Palmer) gets involved. Rebecca does not have a good relationship with her mother and wants to keep Martin away from her. Unfortunately this does not work out and Martin returns home with his mother and the closing grasp of the shadowy creature that lives in the dark.
If you are a horror movie fan there isn’t much here that you haven’t already seen, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is the kind of horror film that many people will love because it incorporates much of the same material that makes horror fun for general audiences; especially those that love a summer scare. “Lights Out” is a mix of effective jump scares, it offers a story that doesn’t hide the twists and turns that are coming up, and it provides an atmosphere that continuously plays with the expectations of the viewer. Still, while these techniques work very well within this specific film, the 80 minute running time helps immensely, they are also the reasons why the film quickly becomes a monotonous caricature of other films.
Again, this technique is nothing new in horror. Influence is important in keeping the genre fresh and finding new creative ways to make familiar material unique. The strongest influence for “Lights Out” is the simple scary movie premise of the fear of the dark and director David F. Sandberg, kudos to the production company for letting the creator of the short film direct the feature film, shows some accomplished skill in setting up a scare. A scene with a police officer shooting a gun at the creature is especially amusing and there are more scenes that are equally fun to watch.
Unfortunately the script is filled with head shaking character clichés and unoriginal setups that grow increasingly dull as the film progresses. As the origin unravels the film progresses into a third act that loses the entire earned atmosphere and effective frights that it incorporated early in the film. While there is nothing wrong with offering an explanation in a horror film sometimes it’s better to keep the monster in the dark, to let the monster retain some of the power that it holds over the story. “Lights Out” doesn’t do this and all the time spent crafting such a good monster is lost, taking with it all the scary strength. It’s unfortunate because there is a tremendous amount of quality material that could have been utilized to deepen the fear imposed by the creature, aspects associated with maternal qualities, the connection to mental illness, and the maturing child in peril are all places the script could have emphasized to provide the film with good structure without having to explain the monster.
“Lights Out” is the kind of horror film that many genre fans love to watch, it’s also the kind of horror film that many genre fans will be indifferent about, if not outright dislike. Still, there is a place for well-honed scares that serve no other purpose than to make someone jump out of their seat. And there is something to be said about a horror film that makes you, even for a small moment, question turning off the lights.
3.00 out of 5.00