Title: Lights Out
Release Date: July 22nd, 2016
Studio: Warner Bros Pictures
Director: David F. Sandberg
Release Format: Theatrical
If nothing else, Lights Out has a brilliant hook. Everyone has been afraid of what might be lurking in the darkness of their homes at some point. In fact, it’s not even the film’s monster that’s going to be doing the ticket selling. It is the idea that perhaps the most universally experienced paranoid fantasy is absolutely correct, and coming to get you. As such, the film has formed a massive bulb of hype leading up to its release. Many are claiming it is the horror movie to beat in 2016. Unfortunately, much like the bulbs that seem to conspire against our characters, hype can flicker out at the mildest irritation.
Lights Out tells the story of Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), a young woman forced back into the loop of her insane family. Her schizophrenic mother Sophie (Maria Bello) has lost her marbles once again after the death of her husband. As such, Rebecca’s half brother Martin’s (Gabriel Bateman) life has been thrown into chaos, leaving her no choice but to take care of him. However, they begin to discover that what their mother sees is no fantasy. It is, in fact, a deadly creature named Diana that dwells in the darkness and disappears in the light.
In adapting his wildly popular short film to feature length, director David F. Sandberg paints himself in an odd corner. The effect of Diana’s appearances and disappearances is certainly a spine tingling one. It’s something out of a horrible dream that keeps the dreamer shaking for the next week. However, as the film rolls along, it ultimately proves to be the one trick up his sleeve. It’s certainly not for lack of trying, as he does place his characters in a few fairly inventive light puzzles. However, his camera lacks the playfulness and invention of his protege James Wan (a producer on the film). It doesn’t so much mimic Wan’s beautiful trickery from his first Conjuring so much as the complacency of his second. For a film about darkness, it becomes awfully easy to see what scares are coming next.
Meanwhile, a well-rounded cast does it’s best to keep things afloat. Palmer, who has never really been given a chance at a full on leading role, shines here. She has an affable charisma that meshes nicely as she plays semi mama bear to her terrified brother. Bateman does do an equally nice job of keeping Martin’s fear at a realistic level, though. He’s not the screaming, crying annoyance that plagues so many of these types of relationships. Martin’s a smart kid who is just terrified by his situation. Meanwhile, Alexander DiPersia comes off a bit bland as Rebecca’s remarkably understanding dope of a boyfriend. However, it’s Maria Bello takes the cake with her wonderfully loopy turn as the deranged mother. There’s never a moment where we doubt that Sophie absolutely out of her mind, but she also very clearly loves her children. Her destructive relationship with Diana is by far the most interesting part of the film. Frankly, exploring that more would have likely been more interesting than focusing on her children.
Unfortunately, Eric Heisserer’s screenplay lets these fairly interesting characters down. Almost all of the dialogue is either expository or riddled with cliches. It’s the kind of dialogue that entails Rebecca having to remind her brother that “they are fighters” in the middle of a life-threatening situation. In fact, the interactions are often so on the nose that they feel straight out of a CW show. Every character seems to be meeting their scene mate for the first time in each scene. A touch of levity and self-awareness would have done Lights Out a huge favor. The film lacks the payoffs that it’s audience so desperately expects for their patience. It’s afraid to make Diana anything more than a standard movie monster with a twisted backstory. There’s nothing iconic or memorable about her, she’s just a prop that’s thrown in front of the camera for scares. The film takes it’s silly story so seriously that it becomes easy to un-invest once the tricks of the trade become clear.
The true tragedy of this film is that it simply should have remained a short film. In that, the big scare worked wonders because it only had to work once. However, the fibers of its’ lone trick crack as it barely works its way past an hour and twenty minutes. However, there are certainly a couple of solid performances to keep it from becoming an utter bore. Palmer and Bello, in particular, do a wonderful job of fighting a battle for their family’s sanity. Beyond that, there just isn’t much to elevate this film above being a feature length haunted house special effect. Despite it’s best efforts to keep things charged, Lights Out ends up being a waste of electricity.
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- A Novel Concept
- Palmer and Bello
- An Occasionally Effective Scare
- Cliched Story
- Repetitive Set-Pieces
- Underwhelming Monster
- Shallow Writing