The highly anticipated short-film-turned-feature-length Lights Out, directed by David F. Sandberg, follows the story of Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman), their mom Sophie (Maria Bello) and Rebecca’s partner Bret (Alexander DiPersia) as they try to battle a creature that can only exist in the darkness.
In terms of its concept, Lights Out is incredibly creepy. Theoretically, the use of the common and very human fear of darkness should be able to create mountains of terror and suspense. However, instead of using those psychological aspects of horror to its advantage, Lights Out makes connections to mental health, taking a promising and unique concept and turning it into something that has been done better before (for example, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook). This brings me to my biggest problem with the film; it lacks originality in almost every sense. Besides the concept itself, one of the more distracting instances is the physical depiction of the creature; it’s all too familiar. The long, creepy hair, long nails, very rigid and contorted movements are so similar to iconic horror films such as “The Ring” and “The Grudge”. There was a huge missed opportunity to create something a little more unique.
Secondly, the film was far too expository and convenient. Rebecca just happens to stumble upon a giant file box that gives her all of the answers as to the creature’s origins. Delivered in the form of recordings, (which play at the exact right moments to reveal what she seeks), pictures (which visually explain exactly who is in them and why) and copious amounts of paperwork. What could have been an intricately woven mystery that is unravelled thoughtfully throughout the film, actually ends up being a plot that is revealed far too early and far too effortlessly. Because of this, the narrative comes across as sloppy.
Despite this, some really likeable characters are able to shine through, bringing out the most enjoyable aspects of the film. Rebecca, Martin, and Bret are smart. More so than that, they are resourceful and able to think on their feet, which comes in handy when battling the monster that’s pursuing them. More times than not during horror films the audience finds themselves cursing at the screen, but it is refreshing to have characters who seemed like average, logical people reacting to a ridiculous situation. I recall one particular moment where Bret thinks of a genius way to save his life, and the entire theatre had broken into a round of applause. Instances like this really showcased the ways the writing did manage to hit the mark. Bret is more than just the typical disposal partner who rarely makes it to the end. Similar to Bret is Martin, who is more than just a helpless child waiting to be saved. It makes Gabriel Bateman that much more fun to watch onscreen. He was able to perfectly capture the different range of emotions of a child in that situation. He’s quite the promising child actor.
Additionally, Sandberg’s use of lighting through the film was versatile and creative. From black lights to the pulsations of a red coloured sign in Rebecca’s room, to motion detection lighting; each time the lights were used in a different way, more suspense was created as it got the audience wondering how, when, or where the creature may appear again.
Although it doesn’t live up to the hype previously surrounding it, Lights Out is an enjoyable summer horror flick. It had the potential to work as a feature film, but perhaps it was better left off as a short.