lights out

Director: David F. Sandberg

Genre: Horror

Year: 2016

A feature adapted from a two-minute viral horror film? Listen, I jumped and screamed at director David F. Sandberg’s short LIGHTS OUT just like everyone else, but how in the world was he going to adapt this into a full-fledged story? The short is essentially a single scare. The lights go down, a monster appears in the shadows. The lights go up, the monster disappears. It’s clever, but not a story.

The team over at New Line must have put their heavy-duty thinking caps on for this one, piecing together an adequate narrative. Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is a young woman, estranged from her mother Sophie (Maria Bello) after a stressful childhood. Suffering from depression, Sophie talks with an invisible friend named Diana, a monster that only appears in darkness. After Rebecca discovers her younger brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is now suffering the wrath of Diana like she once did, she must confront her mother and the attached creature.

lights out diana

Not the most threatening horror villain name

Sandberg turns the “invisible friend” horror trope on its head, with an adult being the seer, rather than the child. It’s a brilliant twist and provides for some exceptionally scary moments. The most frightening scene has Sophie forcing her son to confront Diana, while he frantically attempts to turn on the lights. Martin’s fear is palpable. There’s nothing more terrifying as a child, than when you can’t trust your own parent.

Overall, though, LIGHTS OUT isn’t likely to keep you up at night. The movie is filled with jump scares, designed around the light gag. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was quite fun hearing the theater audience burst into screams and cower in their seats, in anticipation of the next appearance of Diana. The scares are well-executed, but far from inventive.

lights out electricity

That’s gonna be one scary electricity bill

Sandberg demonstrates considerable skill as a first-time feature director. I imagine it can’t be easy from a technical perspective to light a monster, who only appears in the darkness. An opening warehouse scene cleverly has Diana standing in the shadows between pools of light, producing a menacing silhouette effect. Sandberg also manages to get solid performances out of his leads, with Palmer standing out especially.

LIGHTS OUT’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t feel like a whole meal. The story is thin, even for an 81-minute film. Certain scenes appear padded, especially a mental hospital flashback that over-explains the terror. The explanation for why Diana only appears in darkness is also a little convoluted and is one of the few signs that the movie is adapted from a two-minute short. In BABADOOK-style, the monster in LIGHTS OUT seems to be a representation of Sophie’s mental illness. A final moment would play much better if the filmmakers explored this angle more throughout the movie.

lights out police

As if distrust of law enforcement wasn’t already at an all-time high

LIGHTS OUT is sold as nothing more than a popcorn horror flick. It’s not likely to go down as a classic of the genre, or even as a particularly memorable one. That said, there’s just enough of a thrill to satisfy a summer horror craving.

Verdict: Recommend

Michael is a horror movie lover and fast food connoisseur. Mark McGrath once dedicated a song to him at a Sugar Ray concert.

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