Lights Out is another in a series of refreshing horror movies that have been released this year. Lights Out revolves around a dysfunctional family haunted by a malevolent spirit who cannot come into contact with light of any kind. That simple explanation doesn’t do the film justice. While the film isn’t as original as it thinks (see Darkness Falls, a terrible movie), it is a surprisingly good low budget horror film relying on the old ‘stay out of the dark’ trope.
Lights Out tells the story of a fiercely independent young woman named Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) who is drawn back into her family’s life after her stepfather is mysteriously killed and her young brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) falls prey to severe insomnia. After falling asleep several times in his elementary school class, Rebecca is called in to pick up her brother. Martin reveals their mom, Sophie (Maria Bello), has gone off her medication, and fears to go to sleep due to the scary and disturbing phenomenon happening in their home. From there the plot unravels as they discover the source of the bizzarities and try to survive. I actually like the cast a lot in this film, especially young Martin, who is a precocious young boy who bluntly tells it like it is, often for comic relief. I even liked Rebecca’s love interest Bret (Alexander DiPersia) who is set up to be an idiotic red shirt hunk.
Lights Out does something rare for modern day horror movies and actually gives us developed characters. Rather than, say, just populate the film with idiots or loathsome characters who get picked off one by one a la slasher films, the movie zeroes in on Rebecca and her family, specifically its dysfunction. The cause of this dysfunction is readily apparent, and bubbling right underneath the film’s surface is a chilling aside about the complicated and troubled legal ramifications of a mentally disturbed legal guardian. Through the toxic mutual dependency of Rebecca’s mother, Sophie, and the malevolent spirit, we are witness to an extreme and horrific vision of an abusive relationship and battered person syndrome. The character focus and development betters the film significantly. The tension and drama that results from the unfolding events of the film means so much more when we actually care if our characters live or die.
Lights Out is the first major motion picture for Swedish director David F. Sandberg, and he carries himself with aplomb. This is probably because Lights Out is adapted from a short film that he wrote and directed in 2013. But still. The direction does a good job of concealing its low budget while using the lighting trope to maximum effect. The film isn’t as scary as it could have been but it still does a fantastic job of creating a tense and unsettling atmosphere revolving around light or the lack thereof. The ending is easily the best part of the film, when magnificently tense showdown comes to a spectacular, refreshing, and plainly predictable conclusion.
Lights Out isn’t very scary, which might be a nail in the coffin for some horror aficionados, but it is still enjoyable and tense at its most crucial turns, especially its unrelenting conclusion. The ending is very enjoyable, the film’s title being blatant if not over pronounced foreshadowing of how the film will end. The film manages to focus on the drama and human conflict of a family struggling to come to grips with an insane legal guardian and the complications that come with this failure of state. To the film’s credit, it does earn value for not just being another cheap schlock of a horror film with idiotic characters and nothing but annoying jump scares (though it still had plenty of them). Lights Out’s plot device is not unique, but it’s execution and focus result in a solid low budget horror film.
TLDR: Lights Out is a not so scary movie that wisely focuses on the human drama behind the horror. It manages to entertain and startle with its plot device. 3.5/5 Stars.