David F. Sandberg’s directorial debut, Lights Out, has been a staple in my horror collection for the past few years. Whenever I want to watch a fun short horror movie, I just pop it out and watch it. The film follows a families efforts at helping their mother get rid of a spirit that can only exist in the shadows. It’s clever, fun, packed with genuinely interesting characters, and makes full use of the gimmick at the center of its scares.
With most horror movies that come out nowadays, I can barely remember the characters or their respective motivations. They usually all blend together in a whirl of cliches. This film is actually different and each member of the main cast feels different and unique. Teresa Palmer is great as Rebecca- she feels aloof and surprised but that’s how her character should react. Watching her emotionally open up and try to develop made the threat of the ensuing horror that much scarier. Gabriel Bateman gives one of the best child performances I’ve seen as Martin, Rebecca’s half brother. He’s asked to be mature, resilient, but still maintain some childlike qualities and he delivers in spades. Alexander DiPersia’s performance as Rebecca’s boyfriend was a welcome surprise. Usually the partner character is there for the ride and never adds much to the tension of the story- but Sandberg takes the time to really develop his character through meaningful little interactions that help him feel dynamic and realistic. Finally, Maria Bello absolutely sells the broken and beat down mother figure in Sophie. Watching her struggle to overcome her mental and supernatural issues gives the story a real sense of urgency and tragedy.
The setup for the scares also demonstrates a real ingenuity that I don’t get to see a lot in the supernatural genre. The evil creature can only exist and attack from the shadows. As such, the tension that usually comes from the dark scenes in a horror movie feel even more chilling and terrifying because we know that’s when the characters are at their most vulnerable. However, our characters are all intelligent and quick witted. They know the shadows are where they’re most vulnerable so they come up with strategies to keep the lights on. I could genuinely believe them because they feel like resourceful people trying to survive. It makes their struggle realistic because I could see myself taking the same course of action they did.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t always abide by its own rules which ruins some of the credibility of the creature and the subsequent scares. Sometimes the creature can affect the light switches or turn things off. These moments don’t happen a lot but they zapped me out of the movie. There’s such a great immersion in some of the scares that just feels cheapened when the demon feels like it can do anything at some times and then nothing at other times. Add on to this the cheap jump scare noises at certain times, and the movie feels like it loses some of its ingenuity and magic in favor of the schlock that status quo horror movies love to utilize. It’s a shame because these issues make an otherwise phenomenal movie feel generic.
TLDR: Lights Out is a great, to the point, and well acted supernatural horror journey. If you’ve wanted to watch a more developed horror movie, I’d check this out. You’ll actually care about the characters and their struggles.
Final Rating: 8.7/10. This is one of my favorite horror movies of the past decade. It’s not perfect but I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve watched it and have no doubt I’ll be watching it again in the future.