Release date: 19th August 2016/Watch the trailer here
Lights Out is the debut feature film from writer and director David F. Sandberg, based on his popular short film by the same name. The concept is an interesting one – a creature (not a ghost, but not entirely human, either) that thrives in the dark, but cannot be seen when the lights are on. It plays on one of the most primal fears that has been instilled in us since we were children – the dark and the monsters that lurk in the shadows, and under our beds.
In Lights Out, a young boy, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), is concerned by his mother’s increasingly bizarre behaviour; talking seemingly to no one in the middle of the night. His older sister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), insists that the same thing happened when she was younger, and that the strange creature he sees at night is nothing more than a bad dream. Of course, it soon turns out that this entity is real – a woman named Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) who has attached herself to their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), since childhood.
It seems like a good idea for a horror film, but the mythology behind Diana is never truly explained or developed – there are numerous off-hand comments about a skin disease that means she must stay in darkness, and heavy-handed metaphors with regards to their mother’s depression. Unfortunately, this confusion about what Diana is and how she manages to terrorise the family significantly impacts her effectiveness.
The horror is also negatively affected by the over-reliance on jump scares. Very little of Lights Out‘s short 81-minute runtime is dedicated to building up tension, instead relying on sudden appearances of Diana and loud noises, giving you short-lived frights but none of the dread that a good horror film should make you feel. There’s also lots (and lots) of talking, and looking at old photographs, and silently searching for the creature. This means that the characters are well-developed, but it also means that Lights Out has the opportunity to become boring – something that a film shouldn’t have the chance to do when its runtime is less than ninety minutes.
And then there’s the predictability. Every fright, every plot twist, every gruesome death, can be seen from a mile away. It’s hard to be scared when you know what’s going to happen next. Lights Out relies on every cliché in the horror film book and uses them over and over, from its angst-ridden main character to the old ‘there’s a knock on the door but there’s no one there’.
In the dark, Lights Out might succeed in making you spill your popcorn a couple of times, but by the time the lights have come back on, you’ll already have forgotten about it.