Lights Out (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment) Running Time: 78 minutes approx.
It’s nice to have friends but ones that a bit clingy and needy tend to be a nuisance and the sort of friend you don’t want, especially if they continue to pester you after they have passed away.
Working late one night, Paul (Billy Burke) is murdered by a strange presence in his textile warehouse hiding in the darkness. Paul leaves behind a widow Sophie (Maria Bello), their young son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and a stepdaughter from Sophie’s first marriage Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) who has moved out of home.
Tensions are high between Sophie and Rebecca, falling out over Sophie’s obsession with her dead friend Diana. However it seems Diana never went away and now young Martin is feeling the effects of her presence, causing Rebecca to step in but Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) is not going to make it easy for her.
Lights Out has humble beginnings. Originally a short film by Swedish director David F. Sandberg and his wife Lotta Losten (who has a small role in this film) the clip went viral and caught the attention of Hollywood, namely James Wan of SAW fame. Wan wasn’t sure if this could stretch to a full length film but Sandberg’s new treatment impressed him and Wan agreed to co-produce it.
At first glance, with the supernatural antagonist hidden in the shadows beneath a mane of unkempt black hair, this looks to be a leftover of the J-Horror days of long haired vengeful spirits. With the added gimmick of needing darkness to exist and prey on her victims along with the interesting backstory, we find that Diana is a unique entity in her own right.
To further compound the mystery behind Diana’s existence and her apparent need for vengeance, Sophie, her best friend as a child, is now a woman plaque with mental health issues stemming from issues with depression as a child. It was at a specialist hospital that Sophie and Diana first met and where Diana suffered her unfortunate early demise. But if Diana is dead, why is Sophie still talking with her to this day?
Sophie is on anti-depressants and other medication, following the death of her first husband and now Paul’s, so Martin and Rebecca put the visions of Diana down to the stress of her illness. But when Martin is unable to sleep at night, Rebecca takes him home with her, causing another row with her mother. But once the lights are off that night, Diana makes her presence known in Rebecca’s flat and realises that Diana is real.
For a major directorial debut Lights Out moves at a brisk enough pace, clocking in at a meagre 78 minutes (there is 13 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes in the DVD extras some of which could have boosted this to over 85 minutes), cramming plenty of content into this terse runtime, with character development and credibility being the biggest victims.
Little new ground is broken with this film but to be fair, in the horror genre that isn’t much of a crime. The characters are to type – the rebellious rock chick daughter, the good hearted slacker boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia), the young child to elicit sympathy and dread from the audience and the medicated, cumbersome to handle mother – their familiarity practically telegraphing how the entire story will play out.
However Sandberg does subvert this in the final act and pulls a huge unexpected swerve that shifts the story from horror to tragedy and gives us an emotionally heavy denouement uncharacteristic of this genre. It might have the short run time that dictated the characters being so easily defined to skip having to spend thirty minutes introducing them to the audience.
The downside is we never get a full grip on the rift between Rebecca and Sophie, the latter being made out to be hysterical over her daughter’s need for independence. A flashback reveals that Diana’s presence in the family’s lives dates back to Rebecca’s childhood and is more likely the reason why she left home so abruptly when she had the chance.
Young Martin however is more pragmatic and understands that despite Diana’s influence on Sophie and the damage she is causing, Sophie is still his mother and he must stick with her. Awww. Even Bret tries to instil this in a stubborn Rebecca who only begins to realise this when it is too late.
The final act is a quick moving series of ingenious ideas by the siblings to keep the lights on in the house when Diana goes on the rampage. To little surprise contrivance is the key factor here, such as conveniently finding a blacklight in the basement, but the excitement level is amped up considerably, after plenty of teased jump scares from before, some very well executed and totally unexpected, others less so.
Since horror usually demands a high level of visual effects, Sandberg’s concept in essence works in the opposite way thus the make-up for Diana’s true form is where the budget has gone, while the rest is literally down to the flick of a light switch. The editing is particularly good in the shots where Diana seamlessly appears and reappears in the flick of a light switch, a simple effect which is likely to cause some nightmares I am sure.
It takes a while for the cast to find their feet but when they do their performances are solid. No-one goes over the top which is always a risk in horror, with Gabriel Bateman doing his best to avoid being obnoxious as Martin. Teresa Palmer gets stuck in to her role as Rebecca but still feels on the wrong side of eye candy, while Maria Bello hold things together as the distraught Sophie.
Seasoned horror fans will no doubt pick Lights Out to pieces but overall, this is a well presented first effort from Sandberg with a nice central premise idea and some decent scares.
Sleep tight everyone…If you can!
English, English Descriptive Audio, French, Italian and Hindu Language
English HOH, French, Italian, Dutch and Greek Subtitles
Rating – ***
Man In Black