Step Into the Darkness for Lights Out
August 1, 2016
Few recent horror films have as strong a premise as first-time director David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out, which is based on the short film of the same name. Following a family haunted by a monster that’s seen only in the dark, it’s simple as can be yet brilliant. The genius of the film is its ability to capitalize on the one fear everyone shares. As the lead Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) says, “Everyone’s afraid of the dark, and that’s what she feeds on.”
The film opens in a textile factory owned by Paul (Billy Burke), the stepfather of Rebecca, quickly introducing us to Diana, the monster, in a chilling fashion. This opening establishes the rules of Lights Out: the light is safe, but Diana will make sure you’re never under lights for long.
Eric Heisserer’s screenplay then shifts to the splintered family at the core of the story. Rebecca hasn’t spoken to her mentally unstable mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), in years, following some sort of rift. Now working as an artist, she’s brought back into the fold when her young brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), asks for her help with their mother, whose condition has worsened since the brutal death of her husband. Martin fears that she has lost her mind after witnessing her speak to some sort of figure in the dark.
Although the family relationships are fairly trite, they’re interesting enough and greatly bolstered by the incredibly effective cast. Palmer is a strong, charismatic heroine, lending both grit and heart to the character. Bello is, as always, fantastic; although she’s slightly underused and weighed down by occasionally flat dialogue. The standout, however, is Alexander DiPersia as Bret, Rebecca’s boyfriend. Delivering most of the film’s comic relief, the character is a welcomed reversal of the stereotypical boyfriend found in most horror flicks.
The shining star of Lights Out is undoubtedly Sandberg, who has crafted a truly terrifying picture. Taking obvious inspiration from acclaimed horror director James Wan, who produced the film, Sandberg utilizes the same style of true scares achieved through practical effects. Wan’s touch can be seen throughout Lights Out, which is refreshing, as the Conjuring and Insidious director seemed to have been the only mainstream director who understood how to properly implement jump scares.
As for the film’s monster Diana, she does elicit quite a few jumps, but is ultimately disappointing. Despite her truly frightening and crackly physicality (achieved by Alicia Vela-Bailey), bone-chilling voice, and intriguing backstory, her actual look is more than a little underwhelming. Luckily, she’s only seen in that form twice, remaining in the dark for the majority of the film.
Lights Out is a petrifying experience that brilliantly exploits our natural fear of what lurks in the dark. David F. Sandberg’s debut feature is loaded with effective scares and a strong cast even if its monster’s design disappoints.