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Lights Out‘s premise started with, as mentioned, director David F. Sandberg‘s short film (available on Vimeo), submitted as a short film under three minutes. It is an atmospheric horror film that is short but introduces us to the concept of his spirit that dwells in the darkness. It appears as a shadow with elongated sharp fingers when the lights are out and disappears when the lights are on. Changing the setting but using the same actress as in his short film, this is how Sandberg chooses to start his full feature, Lights Out. However this time, the backstory is different. It highlights why this spirit follows this family as it breaks it up over and over again whether its driving the the mom to a deeper depression to the daughter moving out to the son not being able to sleep. Why is it here? What does it want? All these questions cast over Lights Out as it pans through its tight-knit and quick eight-one minutes run time.
Lights Out is Sandberg’s debut full feature film. With the help of James Wan in the producer’s seat (among the many), there is a certain potential connected to it. However, if the Lights Out short was any indication, Sandberg is fully capable of crafting an effective horror and he does. Lights Out makes a lot of great moves. It builds a haunting atmosphere playing on the audience’s fear of the darkness. He is smart and utilises all sorts of different lighting whether they are on, off or flickering. The music sits in the background with only moments where it teases us. While it does suffer from some horror movie troupes like the usage of the scary basement or predictably expecting what to happen next, it never lingers on those moments but uses it to create the atmosphere from an initial jump scare to create uneasiness to make the next unexpected move a little more effective. Part of this effectiveness does contribute with knowing how to keep the audience wondering about the spirit entity even if the atmosphere does build but it becomes rather overused in the short run time especially the first two-thirds of the movie before heading into the wildly intense final third. Not to mention whatever is haunting everyone is designed extremely well but you can see it in the trailer if that interests you or just go into this one fresh.
Lights Out is not perfect. It is weighed down by a rather generic back story and some dialogue that felt laughably (sometimes awkwardly) out of place. It lingered between cringe-worthy, eye-rolling and laughing territory (and the Fantasia audience laughed a lot). Part of it makes us wonder if it was done deliberately to create a relaxed moment before amping up the intensity ten times more. Or it could most probably be lack of a better screenplay writer. Most of these dialogues are between our main character Rebecca (played by Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend (played by Alexander DiPersia). Thankfully, there isn’t enough of these dialogues to make it unbearable to watch. It keeps the agenda of a horror thriller in the front and remembers to focus on finding the root of the problem.
The cast here deserves some mention. They are convincingly good at their roles. It is not saying that they were in anything bad before. Teresa Palmer has Warm Blood and Maria Bello has more than we can count (most recently Prisoners). Before we talk about the main roles here, it is good to address some of the smaller cameo roles starting from the opening scene, Lotta Losten which almost replays the original short but in a new setting. In that opening scene, Billy Burke also makes an appearance playing the father of the family we will learn about soon. This opening scene last for a good five minutes probably and sets up what to expect for the rest of Lights Out. Here’s where we get to see a distant daughter, Rebecca, played by Teresa Palmer who does a stand-up job and is a very brave character. Playing her boyfriend is DiPersia as Bret (as mentioned before) who is an adorable and fun character to add to the mix but also breaks out from the norm impressively. Its rare to call a horror movie boyfriend adorable but he has this incredibly likeable character with some really great scenes. However, the movie is raised above by the mom Sophie, played by Bello. She is able to highlight the breakdown and being teared apart by depression and of being mentally weakened.
Overall, Lights Out creates a great horror atmosphere. Sandberg does a lot right in creating this horror thriller with a great premise that plays on fear of darkness mixed with effects of depression. His creature and the design is done really well and manages to keep the audience guessing. The cast also delivers some good performances however the dialogue does hit some awkward and laughably out of place moments forcing in a generic back story. There are some tropes too but they are delivered effectively. Between a mixed bag of jump scares and atmospheric build-up in the feeling of dread, Lights Out delivers a solid horror performance that might leave you keeping your lights on for a while.
Director: David F. Sandberg
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), David F. Sandberg
Stars: Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, Andi Osho, Alicia Vela-Bailey