Are you afraid of the dark? It’s plying on this age-old fear that has kept the horror industry in business, whether it be malevolent spirits or machete-wielding serial killers it’s the fear of what is hidden in the shadows that both terrifies us but also intrigues us. First-time director David F. Sandberg made an internet splash with the short film of the same name, which he created along with his wife Lotta Losten, and drew the eye of producer Lawrence Grey who thought the idea would make for a great horror movie. Producer James Wan knew that turning a three-minute short into a feature-length film wouldn’t be easy, and as the plot is fairly thin, but mostly they pull it off.
The short film dealt with a woman who noticed a dark silhouette in the shadows whenever she turned off the light, but when the light is turned back on the figure vanishes. The movie opens with the same basic concept as we see a woman (Lotta Losten who played the part in the original short) working in the gloomy hallways of a textile warehouse, when the motion-activated lights turn off she spots the silhouette of a woman with monstrously long fingers, but upon waving her arms and the lights coming back on the strange woman is gone. This goes on for a bit as this mysterious being hounds the poor woman, who vainly tries warning her boss Paul (Billy Burke), but he’s too wrapped up in his own problems to take her seriously.
We are then introduced to Paul’s stepdaughter Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) who has commitment issues, refusing to acknowledge that her lover Bret (Alexander DiPersia), who she has been exclusively seeing and sleeping with for eight months, is her boyfriend and just someone she has sex with on a regular basis. She is alerted by her half-brother Martin’s (Gabriel Bateman) school that the kid has been falling asleep in class and that her mother has not been answering the phone. Turns out Rebecca’s mother Sophie (Maria Bello) suffers from depression, she even spent time in a mental institution as a child, and the recent death of her husband Paul has apparently sent her down the rabbit hole again. Rebecca takes Bret to her place, an apartment above a tattoo parlour, and that night she encounters a strange figure that only becomes visible in the dark.
The nice thing about Lights Out is that it doesn’t waste time with our lead characters trying to convince other people that there is a ghost haunting them, having been attacked in her room Rebecca immediately believes Martin that this ghost, who he calls Diana, has been living with him and his mom for some time now. That the mysterious Diana is the reason for Rebecca’s father’s disappearance, and her running off to live on her own, just adds credence to what the kid tells her. The ghost also having carved her name into Rebecca’s wooden floor, causing a flashback where she remembers the nasty entity ruining a picture she drew as a child, which kind of seals the deal.
On the negative side, Lights Out is insanely predictable, I was spouting out exact lines of dialogue just before the characters in the movie uttered them. Almost every horror movie cliché in the book is ticked off one by one during the films running time, and of course, the idiots in this movie will wander around the dark house alone for no bloody reason. When all the lights in the house go out she even leaves her little brother asleep in bed, while she goes off to investigate, with only a little candle as protection. We then have to endure Rebecca stalking down dark hallways, with a hand-crank-powered flashlight, as she looks for the cause of the power outage. Then there is Bret who we see wandering around outside for some unearthly reason, and of course, poor Martin has to face off against Diana with his stupid little candle because he woke up to find his sister missing.
David F. Sandberg’s talent as a director is key in overcoming the script’s shortcomings, the last act is basically our heroes trying to use various methods of illumination to keep the creature at bay, and the mystery as to who or what Diana actually falls into the category of generic and unimportant, but what really sells the movie is the cast who all do fantastic jobs. You feel their helplessness, you pity Sophie and the mental issues she so desperately wants to overcome if only the malevolent Diana would let her, and you sit at the edge of your seat as good finally confronts evil. At eighty minutes in length the movie does not wear out its welcome, Sandberg clearly knows how far he can push a rather thin premise, and the result is a taut little ghost story that has enough originality to offset the numerous clichés and cheap jump scares.
Lights Out (2016)
The mystery behind the haunting may be a tad lame, and the horror clichés a trifle abundant, but the cast and direction elevate the film above these script problems making Lights Out an entertaining little horror movie.