Lights Out Review

Posted: July 23, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

lights-out-poster-imageWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

When people talk about the current horror renaissance, they typically refer to independent and smaller films like Kill List, The Babadook, It Follows, and The Witch. Indeed, that seems to be where the best horror filmmaking is happening today, but the studios are not totally devoid of good ideas. One of the best studio horror movies of recent memory was Oculus, a neat little movie with a strong concept based on the director’s previous short film. Now, we have Lights Out, another studio horror film with a neat concept based on a prior short film from another young director.

As a young girl, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) was driven away by her mother Sophie’s (Maria Bello) mental health issues and the abandonment of her father. Now living independently, Rebecca is drawn back into her family’s world when her younger brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) begins to experience the same problems Rebecca experienced as a young girl. More importantly, both he and Sophie seem to be plagued by a dark entity which Rebecca had previously associated as the result of nightmares. Now, Rebecca aims to save her family and to uncover what exactly is behind the aforementioned creature afflicting them.

That plot description is accurate, but it doesn’t really get to the core of what makes Lights Out unique. The main selling point of the film is most certainly the monster; a thin and feral woman composed entirely of blackness who can only move within the dark. The creepy silhouette design works really well and the notion of a monster who disappears in light is a neat idea. Director David F. Sandberg creates a number of strong set-pieces which make great use of this monster and her powers. The opening prologue is particularly effective at the villain and her powers. These horror set-pieces are clearly the best parts of the film. Sandberg does a great job drawing scares out of these scenes and there’s also a lot of creativity in how the creature moves through the darkness and reacts to various light sources. It should also be noted that it is probably very difficult showing a character of total darkness move in the dark and have it still be legible so further kudos is owed.

Lights Out also benefits from a pretty decent cast. Teresa Palmer creates a likable enough premise, as does Alexander DiPersia as Rebecca’s boyfriend. The most interesting performance though is from Maria Bello as the mentally disturbed mother. I do think Bello does go a little over the top here and there, but there is something unnerving and equally sympathetic about her performance. Unfortunately, a lot of the strong work done by Sandberg and his cast is largely undermined by Eric Heisserer’s screenplay, which makes a lot of frustrating missteps. In particular, the film rushes through the details of the backstory far too quickly. Basically every aspect of the mystery behind the villain is revealed within the first act and from there the film has little else to offer in terms of story. I kept expecting there to be some last minute twist, but there isn’t. The only thing left to resolve Rebecca and her family’s arc which is also pretty predictable.  I couldn’t help but compare Lights Out to Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, another horror movie with a creepy dark girl and an urban legend vibe, which does an excellent job slowly unravelling the mystery at the heart of the story and keeping viewers on their toes.

The characters here are also prone to a lot of those clichéd horror movie mistakes like splitting up when they shouldn’t and there isn’t really any reason too. I was also annoyed at how unprepared the characters were for their situation. All they know about whatever is haunting them is that it doesn’t like light, yet they only seem to invest in a handful of candles and one shitty wind-up flashlight. If it were me, I’d have had about a half dozen heavy duty flashlights and about a dozen smaller ones just in case. I’m aware that probably sounds like a nitpick, but given that it’s the villain’s only exploitable weakness, it just seems stupid that the characters weren’t more prepared. The film’s ending is also predicated on the characters fully committing to a course of action even though there is little to no evidence that what they’re doing will work. Finally, given that the film is pretty clearly a metaphor for dealing with mental illness, the ending is…troubling. I won’t get into spoilers, but the way things end is either offensive or it shows that the central metaphor wasn’t very well thought out. Neither option is very appealing.

Lights Out is an infuriating film, not because it is bad, but because I can see how it could be improved drastically with a few tweaks. What it comes down to is quite simply tightening the screenplay. Unravel the mystery more gradually, make the characters’ behaviour more believable, and fix the problematic ending. Even with those flaws though, there are good things to be found in Lights Out. David F. Sandberg definitely shows promise, the cast works decently well, and most importantly, there are some quality scares here. There are things here worth seeing, but maybe wait for home video/on demand.

C

Comments
  1. Damien Riley says:

    Nice review. I haven’t seen this one yet. I like how you compared it to the Ring. The creature sounds scary. I’m not sure if I’ll see this in the theater. One thing is for sure, I am glad I saw ‘Star Trek:Beyond’ on the big screen. Really enjoyed that one.

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