Studio: Warner Brothers
Director: David F. Sandberg
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Producer: James Wan, Lawrence Grey, Eric Heisserer
Stars: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, Maria Bello, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Andi Osho
A shadow creature that only appears in darkness torments a family whose troubled mother is tied to the entity’s past.
Sophie hasn’t been the same since the horrible death of her husband Paul, though she wasn’t exactly behaving normally before then either. Debilitated by depression since childhood, Sophie still speaks to a strange shape in the shadows named Diana, a figure she insists is real even though everyone else assumes it is one more manifestation of her ongoing emotional turmoil.
Sophie’s adult daughter Rebecca sought solace from her mother’s psychological troubles by moving out many years ago. Little stepbrother Martin doesn’t have that option. So when Martin complains to big sis that the darkness in mom’s house seemingly wants to kill him, protective instincts kick in with Rebecca wondering if Diana might be more than a mere invention of imagination after all.
Indeed, that is exactly what the young woman discovers as she digs deeper into her mother’s troubled history with the eerie entity. Martin was right to be terrified. Diana shares a bizarre bond with Sophie and anyone who tries breaking it suffers the shadow’s wrath, should they ever be unfortunate enough to find themselves surrounded by darkness.
Good news for horror film fans afraid of the dark. “Lights Out” is loaded with enough dying flashlight beams, flickering bulbs, and tiptoeing into blurred blackness to ensure a trip to work, school, or wherever the next morning with red eyes of insomnia certain that every shadow hides a threat bent on murder.
The movie is a bursting bonanza of jumps and gotchas charging hard with every bit of a boo to be mustered. It’s unabashedly artificial, yet works oh-so-well to both charm and chill anyone open to the Friday night frights of a movie engineered entirely for pure popcorn matinee thrills. Those chomping for more creativity behind the supernatural spookshow on the other hand, will find the film falling short on the satisfaction scale.
Bearing in mind that “Lights Out” is based on tissue-thin source material, it’s almost a wonder it has a story at all. Swedish director David F. Sandberg’s 2013 film of the same name is a two-and-a-half-minute short about a woman repeatedly flipping a light switch into increasingly alarming pop scares. Regardless of how well he capitalized on creating compelling characterizations or fleshed out fiction that didn’t exist in the first place, that screenwriter Eric Heisserer turned an over-and-done-with setup of such simplicity into a full-blown script complete with thematic subtext is an ovation-deserving achievement in its own right.
Sandberg’s original short was wildly popular worldwide, though I personally failed to see where opportunity was inherent for a feature-length adaptation. Heisserer’s story of a shadow creature tied to one woman’s mental illness ably covers the bases for context to that content. Effective performances tuned with precise pinches of emotion from Maria Bello as Sophie and moxie from Teresa Palmer as Rebecca move momentum the remainder of the way at a brisk clip. Snappy pacing sufficiently complements sharp staging and cinematography to keep fear fires stoked before too much convention can snuff out the flame.
There’s certainly no call to campaign for the movie’s induction into any Horror Hall of Fame. “Lights Out” is chuffed by cheapness in its plentiful conveniences, Paul’s positioning in a textiles factory where creepy mannequins are commonplace in the hallways being one obvious example, yet overall intentions to entertain routinely trump traditional tropes.
Get into the swing of its spirit and there is old-fashioned fun to be had with “Lights Out.” Your stomach might rumble from rapid digestion of its relative depth, though the taste left on the tongue remains sweet with the flavor of a well-shot and well-produced thriller worth a one-time spin around its boogeywoman’s block.
Review Score: 65