Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Terror throughout, Violence including Disturbing Images, some Thematic Material and brief Drug Content
Directed by: David F. Sandberg
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Maria Bello, Billy Burke & Alicia Vela-Bailey
In 2013, fresh-faced filmmaker David F. Sandberg made a phenomenal short film, titled LIGHTS OUT, that became an internet sensation. Apparently some studio head watched this creepy video and gave 5 million dollars to Sandberg, because there’s now a feature-length LIGHTS OUT hitting theaters. I was both hesitant and excited when buying my tickets for this spooky summer horror flick. The trailer was impressively scary and Sandberg clearly had a knack for creating nightmarish images, but memories of DARKNESS FALLS, MAMA, and 2011’s DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK danced through my head. Judging from my own reaction towards this film and the vocal responses from audience members around me, LIGHTS OUT will be terrifying for filmgoers who haven’t seen a lot of horror films and a fun time for seasoned genre fans!
Twenty-something Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) has effectively distanced herself from her overly oppressive and mentally disturbed mother, Sophie (Maria Bello). When Rebecca’s stepfather (Billy Burke) dies, her younger brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is left solely in unstable Sophie’s care. Though it might appear that two people are living in Sophie’s home, that’s not quite the case…because a dangerous entity also resides in the house. This monster is blood-thirsty and can only appear/attack in the dark. Rebecca tirelessly tries to get Martin out of her mother’s house before it’s too late!
LIGHTS OUT kicks off on a hugely positive note, with a prologue that delivers effective scares in a big, bad way. This opening sequence in a warehouse echoes a distinct moment from the 2013 short film and becomes borderline terrifying for five minutes. Sadly, it also served as the scariest part of the entire film and the rest of the story never quite achieved the same level of well-crafted horror again. There are loads of jump scares spread throughout the shakily paced 81 minutes. These range from great to a blatantly cheap (the movie doesn’t follow its own rules), but the film truly shines in its quieter, more suspenseful frights.
Though clocking in at 81 minutes, LIGHTS OUT still feels slightly stretched in its short running time. There’s only so much you can do with a premise like this. In order to add 78 extra minutes to what began as a three-minute short, the screenplay constantly dabbles in melodrama (which may work for some filmgoers, but felt like lazy filler to me) and a mind-boggling exposition dump that lays out the entire plot for the viewer. There’s no reason that Rebecca should know certain information, other than the script needed it to happen through a box of files, conveniently placed recordings and a few grainy flashbacks. The origin of this darkness creature (which has already been spoiled in the film’s marketing) is a bit silly to say the least. Even the tooth fairy from DARKNESS FALLS seems slightly more creative than clawed darkness-dweller “Diana.”
The plot calls for these characters to walk through dark places, while fully knowing there’s a monster lurking around every corner. This means that lots (and lots) of aggravatingly stupid decisions are made by characters we’re supposed to care about, resulting in some of the most annoying horror victim logic I’ve seen in years. A dumbass turns off a light to see a creepy silhouette and then proceeds to mess with the light switch for a full minute before coming to the conclusion that this might be a bad idea. Teresa Palmer uses a flashlight that constantly needs to be cranked, because it would make too much sense to grab a normal flashlight. There’s also the cliché of a character hearing a sound in a mysterious room and making her way down a shadowy hallway to investigate…even though there’s a whole lot of darkness for Diana to hide in.
In spite of dumb characters, silly scenes (namely, that damn exposition dump this film never fully recovers from), and never quite reaching the terrifying level of its prologue, LIGHTS OUT is fun in a gimmicky way. Out of the many horror films that feature darkness-dwelling threats, LIGHTS OUT probably stands out as the best (not exactly a huge compliment considering the competition is DARKNESS, DARKNESS FALLS, and DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK). The film has quality scares and occasionally embraces creativity in its creepy premise (a scene with a gun is a cool highlight). Overall, LIGHTS OUT is a solid gateway horror flick for those who haven’t seen too many horror films and will probably serve as a fun, flawed ride that’s in one ear and out the other for genre fans.