When Rebecca left home, she thought she left her childhood fears behind. Growing up, she was never really sure of what was and wasn’t real when the lights went out…and now her little brother, Martin, is experiencing the same unexplained and terrifying events that had once tested her sanity and threatened her safety. A frightening entity with a mysterious attachment to their mother, Sophie, has reemerged. But this time, as Rebecca gets closer to unlocking the truth, there is no denying that all their lives are in danger…once the lights go out.
In 2013, director David F. Sandberg released a 3 minute short called Lights Out to the internet. It immediately became a viral sensation that provided some truly effective scares in its short running time, so it wasn’t too long afterwards that an announcement was made that Mr. Sandberg would be working on a feature length version of his short film. The big question was could he effectively translate what worked perfectly as a short film into a 90 minute feature (81 minutes to be exact)? I went into this one with a fair amount of trepidation, but I’m pleased to say that the feature length version of Lights Out is one of the better horror movies I’ve seen this year.
Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is beginning to think that her younger brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), might be in some type of danger because of their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), and her ongoing mental health issues. Fearing for the worst, and with the assistance of her on again/off again boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia), Rebecca attempts to gain full legal custody of her little brother. Unfortunately for all involved, the arrival of a ghost of a woman with a gruesome malady of the skin named Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) makes things hard for everyone. But Diana is horrified by light, any kind of light, so she can only strike down her victims in the dark. This leads to some very suspense filled, and breathtakingly scary sequences where the characters are fighting to stay in the light, any kind of light, in order to keep Diana at bay.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the story than what I just described, but I’d rather you went to see this one in person to discover all of the various layers it presents for yourselves. Films like Lights Out are custom made to be seen in a darkened theater with a full audience, and I can firmly attest that the audience I saw it with screamed just about as loud as humanly possible numerous times throughout the film. As a matter of fact, I haven’t been to a movie that so thoroughly frightened its audience as much as this one did in years. Sandberg (working from a script by himself and Eric Heisserer) does the near impossible here, and presents us with a film that still manages to scare the pants off of the viewer. Even though the odds are pretty good that the viewer has already seen the original 3 minute short, and is familiar with the premise already. Cinematographer Mark Spicer does an amazing job of keeping the film looking dark and foreboding, often using only whatever light is used in the scene. There are scenes here lit with only candles or florescent light, and they look absolutely smashing.
As great as the talent is behind the cameras, the talent in front of the cameras are equally outstanding. Palmer, Bateman, Bello & DiPersia are all fully invested in their characters, and give completely believable portrayals. As Diana, Bailey doesn’t do much more than look really scary as she gets closer and closer to her victims, but I’ll be damned if she doesn’t do one hell of a job doing it! I’m fairly confident saying that Diana is gonna go down in horror film history as one of the absolute scariest creatures to ever grace the big screen. The film moves at a brisk pace as well, which really works in its favor. We get just enough information to keep us interested and invested in the story line, there isn’t too much boring exposition to bog the proceedings down. Lights Out moves quickly, but deliberately, like a lion about to pounce on its unsuspecting prey.
But while the film is indeed scary, it eventually runs the same scare into the ground. Essentially, Lights Out relies on jump scares to work as well as it does. But even people who’ve never seen a horror film in their lives will eventually catch on, and know exactly when the next scare is coming. While the audience I watched it with repeatedly shrieked in fright at each and every calculated scare, I found myself getting a little bored with them. Mind you, this didn’t detract from my overall opinion of the film, but I smell a sequel forthcoming, and since the film relies on jump scares so very much, a sequel would bring nothing new to the story. The audience would know exactly what to expect.
But have no doubt, Lights Out is one of the best horror films of the year by far. It’s the best experience I’ve had in a theater this year in terms of sheer terror, and it demands to be seen with an audience. As I mentioned previously, the audience I watched it with went absolutely bananas watching it, and the sound of shrieks mixed with laughter is one I haven’t heard in a long time. I daresay that particular sound was absolutely refreshing to me, and films like this one make me happy to be the lover of horror films that I am. I’m not one whose afraid of the dark, if anything I keep the dungeon I live in as dark as possible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But I must admit to being a bit unnerved when I turned off my hallway light last night. I can only thank Lights Out for making me feel that way, if only for a second or two.
Lights Out – 4 out of 5 shrouds.