WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2016)
Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, Maria Bello
The first shot is swirling down from a lamp post – right off the bat, light is the focus.
Adapted from director David F. Sandberg’s short film competition entry, Lights Out is a short snappy movie, managing to ensure everything from his entry is included in the movie without becoming too bogged down in exposition (though this does occur) and is quite an achievement to make an 80 minute movie from an idea lasting under 3 minutes.
Is the movie scary? Not scary, but definitely creepy. It had a similar vibe to The Babadook (2014) in its narrative path and antagonist.
The idea of a ghoul that attacks in the dark, but disappears in the light is fantastic (reminds me of Freddy Krueger’s dilemma – you’re safe when you’re awake, just don’t fall asleep) and for the majority of the movie, this idea works fine. It does a fine job of working on people’s fear of the dark as well, which is in itself a horror cliché, but when done well can be joyfully creepy. Lights Out doesn’t really on excessive gore to make you wince, it’s respectfully splattered in the movie, but almost blink and you’ll miss it moments – Sandberg relies on jump moments and tension as opposed to visual gruesomeness. Diana isn’t an original concept, but she works in the movie and is a well-explained (but lengthily explained) nemesis with her J-horror nightmarish movements.
The cast does a solid job throughout the movie. Teresa Palmer leads the film admirably, and her initial bad girl routine quickly made way for a survival attitude. She works well with Bateman, Bello and DiPersia and is never too OTT with her actions – she screams, she runs and she argues, and isn’t a Ripley who takes on the spirit with brawn. Bateman was good as the young Martin, though he had a tendency to sneer when talking which I couldn’t unsee. DiPersia thankfully played the role of the boyfriend and outsider capably - otherwise it could’ve been a very weak, wet character. Bello was OK for what she had, but I feel they could’ve used her more and utilised her better.
Throughout the movie, the film makers threw in every light source they could find as a repellent to the evil – UV lighting, candles, timer lighting, car headlights, even a mobile phone – and it was fun watching the characters having to come up with new ideas as each source was snuffed out. Needless to say, the film was lit in ominous lighting allowing our demon to manifest even during the day. It’s fair to say if there is a sequel, it will be interesting to see where it’s taken.
The movie became bogged down in the middle as the lengthy, very obvious exposition was laid out. Prior to this, we learnt of the characters and the situations as the movie unfolded, however once the story of Diana was required, it involved annotated photographs and nicely cued audio cassette recordings. Later on in the film, the motives of Diana are literally written on a wall. This isn’t a showstopper, but it did feel as if the narrative was smacking you in the face a bit too much.
The film had a slightly more familiar final act, however the conclusion was a satisfying one, and nice to see a slight twist on what could have been a generic ending. However, the message it could send out to people attempting to overcome mental illness is potentially worrying. The film did seem to deal with mental illness as a nuisance, and not immediately taken seriously – however, the counter to this is that the children and husband had cared for their mother, seen her through to therapy and ensured she had medication, therefore performing their duty of care and the mother railed against it.
Being based on a (very) short film and the sheer gross this film has made is testament to the director’s vision. Lights Out succeeded as a creepy, atmospheric horror movie, and whilst cliché in places, had enough about it to utilise its great plot device, and a good cast performance help drive it along.
Just don’t turn out the lights.
October 27th 2016