By Jack Dignan
You're not afraid of the dark, are you? Oh, you are? Damn, well that is rather unfortunate as David F. Sandberg's debut feature film, Lights Out, certainly won't help you overcome your fear. In fact, there's about a 100% chance that it will make it worse. Right from the opening scene, this feels like something fresh and original. If any of you have seen the short film that this is based on, you'll know just how freaky things can get. It's a thoroughly original and rather frightening short that evokes relentless nightmares, and the feature adaptation will probably end up doing the same thing.
From producer James Wan, director of Insidious and The Conjuring, comes a film that will make you wish the sun never went down. We follow the story of Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), not too long after the death of her step-father (Billy Burke). Her mother (Maria Bello) has, for a long time, been a little bit... odd, to say the least. When things in her life get rough, she starts to talk to herself, or at least that's what appears to be going on. Her son, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), starts to see a mysterious woman appearing in their house, but only when all the lights are off, meaning their mum may not be talking to herself after all.
Creepy and original, Lights Out is a horror film that works. While The Conjuring 2 remains the scariest movie of the year, and even one of the scariest of all time, Lights Out is another solid entry into the horror genre, utilising its original concept in a genre flooded with clichés. There are plenty of jump scares, but unlike a lot of modern horror movies, the jump scares are earned, thanks to the relentless tension built up beforehand. There's not a single false scare in this movie, and there are some pretty interesting ways in which this concept is explored. Dark and horrifying, yes, but certainly interesting.
Everybody, in some way, shape or form, is afraid of the dark. Whether it's mild or severe, there's no point in denying it. In fact, I saw a post on Tumblr the other day that went "nobody is actually afraid of the dark. We're afraid we're not alone in the dark." This statement hit me hard. Why? Because it's true, and Lights Out is a film that very cleverly plays on that fear. No matter what time of the day it is, if you're in the dark, you're not safe, and right from the opening scene this is made very apparent. It's a short and to the point horror film, only 80 minutes in length, and every minute is useful to the film.
It's not just that it's creepy, either, but that it's smart. The characters in this film are smart, developed characters who I cared about. Even the boyfriend character, played by Alexander DiPersia, had a lot to do that propelled the plot forward. They're smart characters who, for once, make reasonable decisions. Something scary happens and they get the hell out of there. They don't go exploring, slowly walking forwards and asking 'who's there?' They know who's there, and they act wisely. In a genre where every character makes stupid decisions, having smart characters felt rather refreshing.
While the whole gimmick of the film does get a tad overused from time to time, there's no denying that it's something fresh. The 'antagonist' of the film (let's just go with that to avoid spoilers) is seen in almost every scene. It's not hidden, and while this is very effective and rather shocking early on, it does wear out after a while. When it remains a black, walking figure, it's horrifying, but when seen as its true self, it looks very generic. Don't get me wrong, it still creeped the hell out of me, but it's much more effective when hidden in the dark.
I will be honest, I was worried this film was just going to be a series of scares with no real backbone. I was worried it was going to be constantly repeating itself, feeling like a series of short films. It didn't. There's an actual story to be told here, and while some of the ways in which they reveal this story feel incredibly clunky, and some of the performances during these scenes are rather generic, it's interesting enough to work, even if the ending does fall flat a little bit, but a concept as cool as this one does need to run out of steam after a while. It's almost inevitable.
To sum up, Lights Out is clever, fresh and terrifying new horror movie from first time director, David F. Sandberg. The storytelling can be rather clunky, but the story itself is incredibly interesting, full of shockingly smart characters making very intelligent decisions. It's a fun and original film that you should definitely check out.
3 1/2 Stars