Director: David F. Sandberg
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Andi Osho, and Maria Bello
Synopsis: 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.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Are you – or were – afraid of the dark? It’s okay, so was I. Luckily, we didn’t have a crazed entity coming after us, unless you did and if that’s the case, I’m very sorry. But let’s about the movie Lights Out shall we. The film is loosely based off David F. Sandberg’s short film of the same name, and Sandberg returns to direct a feature-length film that expands on his idea and gives us a story that is more than just a horror film. It’s also helps that he has, arguably, one of the best horror directors as a producer in James Wan.
The film has a simple enough premise. Rebecca (Palmer), who lives alone, finds out that her little brother Martin (Bateman) hasn’t been sleeping after his father – her step-dad – has passed away. However, it isn’t because he’s depressed, it’s because their mother Sophie (Bell) has been presumably talking to herself at night. When Rebecca, reluctantly does back to see her mother, she finds out that Martin has heard – and maybe even seen – someone she thought she was done with: Diana. Eventually, Martin and Rebecca soon find out that Diana isn’t just a figment of their mentally-ill mother’s imagination, but a real creepy – and dangerous – entity that only appears in when the lights go out.
I have to hand it to Sandberg, who does a great job in his first big film, of course he had help with Wan as a producer, but Sandberg handled himself pretty well. He wasn’t afraid to take chances with his own work, and even managed to create a pretty well done iteration of his short film at the beginning of the film, with his original lead star in Lotta Losten, and Billy Burke.
While the trailers for Lights Out are all about making us afraid of the dark, there is a good family drama story in the film. Rebecca and her mother Sophie haven’t talked in years – a specific number isn’t given – and the only thing is holding them together feels like it is Martin. Once they come together, you can tell they don’t want to be in the same room. Surprisingly, it’s this aspect that I wish was expanded, considering the movie is only an hour and twenty-one minutes.
That’s not to say the horror moments don’t work or aren’t effective, because they sure as hell do and are. Lights Out is based off the idea that when the lights go out, something is about to go down, and it does. The scenes are tense and nerve-racking that will make you look at every corner of the screen to see where Diana is going to pop out of. Sandberg and cinematographer Marc Spicer even put their actors in the thick of it as they used as much natural light as they could. This shows in the film because it feels like you are right there in the dark with the characters.
The cast also pulls everything together. Palmer’s Rebecca has a great arc in the film with her little brother Martin that has a good progression, and Gabriel Bateman as Martin holds his own, and isn’t the annoying little kid in most horror movies. Alexander DiPersia plays Bret, someone Rebecca is seeing, who brings some levity to the otherwise dramatic or horrifying scenes. Maria Bello is a bit wasted here, as she doesn’t have enough screen time as she should. Her character however is a tragic one. Her mental-illness makes her an easy character to feel for, but again, she’s rarely in the film until the final act of the film. Finally, Alicia Vela-Bailey plays Diana. It’s hard to tell sometimes when Vela-Bailey was actually on set, and when she was a CGI character, because of Vela-Bailey’s performance when she is actually there is so convincing and scary as hell. Every time she moves you can hear clicks and what may be bones readjusting themselves, needless to say, Diana is sure to give you nightmares.
Lights Out works on a lot of accountants, but it does take a misstep when it starts to cluck together a lot of exposition to explain why Diana is back and targeting this family. The reasoning is okay, but the way they went about it was mishandled.
All in all, Lights Out is a scare-worthy horror film that is sure to make you afraid of the dark again. It does take a misstep trying to make sense of it all, but overall the cast and frightening and tense-filled horror moments making Lights Out a great directorial debut by the man that created the short film the feature-length film is based on.
4 out of 5