Movie Review: Lights Out (2016)

“You were right to be afraid of the dark.”

2 Stars
Lights Out (2016)

Lights Out (2016)


Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello

Synopsis: A woman tries to protect her little brother from the same malevolent spirit that terrorised her when she was a child.

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We like to think we shed our childhood fear of darkness as we grow into adulthood, although, in fact, it’s not the darkness that scares us, but what it might conceal.   When we lie in the darkness, a tiny sound – a knock, a scratch – is enough to send our heart rate soaring.   Imagine, then, how terrified we would be to spy a wild-haired, long-taloned silhouette watching us from an open doorway.   Then imagine that the figure inexplicably disappears when you turn on the light…

This most primal of fears provides the basis for first-time director David F. Sandberg’s effective little horror Lights Out.   The figure in the doorway used to be Diana, a young girl with a painful aversion to sunlight who died during an experimental procedure to cure her of her affliction.   Now, thirty or so years later, her adult spirit haunts psychologically disturbed Sophie (Maria Bello – Abduction, Prisoners) – who was Diana’s only childhood friend – and mercilessly slays anyone she feels might threaten her existence.   Although Diana possesses supernatural strength, she still has a painful reaction to light of any kind, which means the only hope of survival for anyone who’s incurred her wrath is to stay out of the shadows.

Sophie has two kids.   Rebecca (Teresa Palmer – Warm Bodies), a fully grown woman, has long since flown the coop and is deftly sidestepping the efforts of her boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia) to move into her tiny one-bedroom flat.   Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is much younger than his sister, and still lives at home with his mum, who is once again behaving in the bizarre manner that troubled Rebecca so much when she was a kid.   When her brother tells her that there’s a malevolent presence in the house with which their mother sometimes converses, Rebecca’s decision to move her little brother in with her is swiftly over-ruled by social services, so she decides to stay at the family home and face the demon which unnerved her so much when she was a child.

Lights Out is adapted from Sandberg’s own three minute short, and the brevity of its source material is evident in the film’s own short running time (approximately 75 minutes without credits).  Such a brief running time often suggests a lack of ideas, but Lights Out’s is largely down to the fact that it refrains from including the pointless murders of superfluous characters simply to pad out its length.   The film gets down to business from the very first scene, and steers admirably clear of padding, even though it might have benefited from some more back story regarding Sophie’s childhood friendship with Diana, and Rebecca’s childhood experiences with her spirit.   It’s also refreshing to find such a strong, independent heroine in a horror movie, and Palmer does a bang-on job of demonstrating the internal strength upon which the offspring of damaged parents must often draw.

Although it’s built upon a premise that is both flimsy and familiar, and is hampered by a PG13 raring which means it relies a little too heavily on jump-scares, Lights Out stands out from an overcrowded genre thanks to its effective use of darkness and light to create a genuinely forbidding atmosphere.

(Reviewed 22nd August 2016)

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