Hear Me Review: Lights Out
Lights Out Review
Keen fans of modern horror will be more than familiar with the name James Wan. Starting out his career with the groundbreaking 'Saw', he's dabbled in Hollywood blockbusters, directing an entry in the Fast and Furious series and he now helms the critically acclaimed series The Conjuring.
So my eye was immediately drawn to the poster for Lights Out as he has decided to put his name to the movie, this time as a producer. My interest was piqued further when I realised this was directed by David F. Sandberg, and based on a very short film he had created that had gone viral on the internet years before about a creature that could only be seen just between shadows after a woman had turned the lights off in her home. For your ease, you can see the original short at the foot of this article.
Lights Out follows the story of Rebecca (played by Teresa Palmer), a young woman keen to shirk responsibility, and the man she hesitates to brand as her boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia). When concerns are raised for Rebecca's half-brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), who is repeatedly falling asleep at school, their shared mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), who is known for struggling with mental health issues, cannot be reached on the telephone.
Rebecca realises she is unable to avoid her broken family any longer, and when she steps in to assist, she learns that Martin is suffering from the same 'bad dreams' that she once had as a child, involving a creature who goes by the name of Diana.
The majority of the performances here are nothing special, although everybody performs their role to a satisfactory standard. There are exceptions, one of which being Gabriel Bateman, who stands out as a child with sincere potential. At such an age there's a fine line between endearing and cliché, but he does a good job of staying on the right side of the line and he steals most of the scenes in which he appears. Another highlight is Alicia Vela-Bailey who performs as the movie monster, Diana. Keen to use minimal CGI in a culture that is increasingly appreciative of practical effects, Sandberg has made an excellent choice in Vela-Bailey and she is arguably the glue that holds the movie together.
Diana immediately sets herself apart from the demons and ghosts of Wan's personal filmography; the antagonist of Lights Out is a genuine threat and this is established early on. Unlike an entity that is chasing a soul or attempting to mentally break down their victims, she is willing and able to commit serious violence - this adds considerable weight to the impact she has on-screen which is already formidable due to the creepiness of her tall, spindly appearance, knotted hair and claw-like fingers.
But Lights Out suffers from the same elements we see in so many horror films. The audience is expected to suspend their disbelief as characters make poor and downright stupid decisions that seem to be implemented to put them in a position that allows certain scary scenes to exist. This has become a typical occurrence that horror fans have had to accept over the years and although it can be forgiven to an extent, it would be refreshing to see some innovation in situational scares.
The 'rules' of Diana raise concerns as well. Where can she go and what can she do? This is very vague and appears to depend on what suits the director at that moment in time. In some scenes, light will make her disappear, although in others it inflicts damage. With a considerably short run-time (81 minutes) and a sequel already on the cards, the more sceptical among fans would hope this wasn't a conscious decision to save details for a future release.
Lights Out is not a masterpiece of horror, but it is still a good, scary film. It manages to play on the age-old fear of the dark that everyone has experienced at some point in their life and although the characters fail to captivate has an intriguing plot with some twists that manage to surprise. For horror fans, Sandberg has immediately become a director worth keeping an eye on.