Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: David F. Sandberg
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Billy Burke and Maria Bello
Movie House Cinema Preview Screening
When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.
When I reviewed James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 I described it as a great big cheeseburger of a horror movie when compared to the fine fillet steak that Robert Eggers served up with The Witch, stay with me people! Wan served up a horror movie that delivered its scares quickly and cheaply but that didn’t mean they weren’t’ effective; whilst I still enjoyed the film it just didn’t have the same lasting effect on me as Eggers’ feature which managed to get really under my skin.
Lights Out follows a similar path to The Conjuring 2, unsurprisingly since James Wan is one of it’s producers. It takes a premise that’s perfect for a horror movie, a monster that can only attack you in darkness; like Wes Craven did with Nightmare On Elm Street, where else would children be safer than at home in their beds, Lights Out tries to play on our irrational fear of the dark and gives us a very rational reason to be terrified by it; but sadly the writers take this great concept and throw it into a very formulaic run of the mill horror movie that just becomes too confuddled as it tries to take us by the hand and explain everything.
Much like Andrés Muschietti’s Mama, Lights Out started life as a three-minute short, but the switch from short to full-blown feature is the film’s central problem: even at only 84 minutes long it feels stretched to breaking point. It’s filled with every horror-movie cliché you can think of and quickly starts to feel very contrived and clunky, here’s just far too much needless moments of exposition, as if the film is pausing for breath to tell you what’s going on: yes there’s even a major plot revelation revealed through an old Dictaphone that someone conveniently managed to leave sitting around!
For all its schlocky silliness there’s still fun to be had from watching this film and that’s primarily down to the film’s supernatural antagonist Diana. Thankfully she’s not a completely CGI creation, but a character created through practical effects and clever camera trickery. It gives her character a real menacing presence and physicality that you just don’t get from CGI gribbly. There’s just something about her that genuinely gave me the heebie jeebies when we see her character revealed through the switching of a light on and off: later on the writer’s decide to show us more of Diana through the use of a black-light, but it’s nowhere near as effective: like so many other horror movies, the less we see of the monster the more effective the scares.
But for all it’s cheap scares there’s a much more interesting concept lurking in the shadows within this film, a mother’s fight against her own personal demons as she struggles with depression. It’s a shame it’s not explored further, but the focus on the narrative is firmly on the children as they try to save their mother from Diana. Personally I think it would’ve been a more interesting narrative had the narrative been focused on Sophia, in a similar way Jennifer Kent did with The Babadook. Sophia is by no means a villain within this film, she’s merely a woman whose insecurities are abused by this spirit; after all she only appears when Sophia is off her medication.
Nevertheless the decision to focus the narrative around the children trying to save their mother is a nice twist on the tried and tested horror genre norm. Usually it’s the other way round with the parent having to save their child from a paranormal entity and it works well within this feature. Teresa Palma’s character Rebecca is forced to return home and finally face the fears she ran away from years before in her attempt to save her family.
Sadly Lights out is ultimately nothing more than a run of the mill horror movie, it takes a concept that could’ve been so much more and serves up something for a mainstream multiplex audience. It’s not terrible, but it feels like a missed opportunity, this just isn’t on a par with recent gems like It Follows or The Babadook.