LIGHTS OUT (USA/15A/81mins)
Directed by David F. Sandberg. Starring Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello, Billy Burke, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia.
THE PLOT: After her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) reports experiencing the same terrifying events that pushed her to leave home, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) returns to deal with the mysterious entity, which seems to have an attachment to her mother.
THE VERDICT: ‘Lights Out’ is based on a short film that director David F. Sandberg published online in 2013. A rather simple horror flick, Lights Out is surprisingly accomplished, and has plenty of scares, although it struggles with expository dialogue and plotholes that take too long to be filled in.
Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke and Maria Bello make up the cast of the film, and they fit into the standard stereotypical roles in a horror movie; the victim, the terrified child, the brave one, the boyfriend and the one who dies too quickly. Each of them do fine with their character, never managing to make them anything spectacular, but showing they are capable of carrying the jumps and scares in the film.
Screenwriter Eric Heisserer adapted the screenplay from David F. Sandberg’s short film of the same name, and makes sure that the fear and the jumps begin right at the start of the film. There are enough lulls in the action to make sure the audience can catch their breath before the tension ramps up again. There are problems with the dialogue from time to time however, as much of the exposition happens through awkward conversation. As well as this, there are times when the film feels as though it is riddled with plotholes, and when these are eventually filled in, it is too little too late.
As director, David F. Sandberg keeps the action going throughout, but seems more interested in the scares than the story, which leads to some very talky scenes that kill the atmosphere. The jumps and scares are good, and the monster is well created and carefully wrapped into the actions of the characters, but the story could have been told in a more interesting and engaging manner.
In all, ‘Lights Out’ is a decent enough horror with plenty of scares, the premise feels novel and is well created, but the dialogue is often clunky and issues with the plot are skimmed over. Still, there are jumps and starts throughout, and the sequel is bound to sort out the issues with this film.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Lights Out is the feature debut of David F. Sandberg. It’s also an expansion of his 3-minute short film, which is worth checking out on YouTube before you see the feature-length version.

    In the opening sequence, businessman Paul (Billy Burke) is subjected to a terrifying encounter with an entity in the silhouette form of a woman who only appears in the shadows when the lights are turned out. Not long after, his daughter Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) and young son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) are subjected to similar nerve-wracking encounters, when Martin comes to live with Rebecca. Their mother Sophie (Maria Bello) has mental problems, which come from a childhood trauma. But Sophie is the key to understanding why all of this is happening. Whatever you do, don’t turn off the lights…

    Lights Out clearly wants to be this year’s It Follows – which was last year’s finest horror film. It’s based on an original idea which in itself terrifying when you think about it. It plays on childhood fears of the dark and the shadows that might move about while our eyes close and we fall into the land of dreams. The real nightmare is what’s lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce when the time comes.

    That’s the basis of Diana, the mostly-unseen entity that occurs throughout the film. Sandberg is to be congratulated for making a character that relies more on ominous presence and clever sound design to sell the terror. So many horror films feel the need to push the spirit/monster/vampire etc in full view so early on for shock value. Sandberg cranks up the tension instead, playing peek-a-boo with audience emotions. There were plenty of gasps and screams at this reviewer’s screening, though this seasoned horror fan is made of stronger stuff. Strangely though, the original short film seems scarier.

    For what it’s worth, Lights Out is mostly effective, but it also feels a bit manipulative. A smarter film like It Follows didn’t rely on predictable jump scares. You never knew when the next scare was coming. Instead, you know what’s going to happen next with Lights Out. It has that air of predictability which marks it out as fairly average horror, with a good but not outstanding cast. It’s fun, but it’s not likely to make a lasting impression. Next up for Sandberg: Annabelle 2, which is currently filming. Hopefully, he can improve on the original. ***

  • emerb

    Most of us were afraid of the dark when we were younger and if, like me, you were one of those then you won’t find much in the way of easy comfort watching in “Lights Out”. Swedish director David F. Sandberg plays with and fleshes out this common fear in this feature debut. It comes from an idea he introduced in one of his own short films whereby you wake up, see a figure in the dark, turn on
    the light and the figure disappears. Here, a fearsome demon appears only in the dark and haunts a family when the lights go out so they must come up with creative ideas to keep things bright – unlocking the car door, using a phone’s flashlight or lighting candles, they must avoid darkness at all costs in order to survive. Produced by James Wan (“The Conjuring,” “Insidious”), it’s a smart psychological horror, one that neither goes for cheap special effects nor overstays its welcome.

    Maria Bello stars as Sophie, an unstable mother of two whose obsessive love for her imaginary “friend” Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) has alienated her kids, the rebellious Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) and her innocent younger brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman). Martin lives at home and he’s terrified. He hears his mother talking to herself late at night and can’t sleep, prompting the school to get involved. Reluctantly at first, Rebecca steps in to help and takes Martin to live with her and her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) but when child protective
    services show up the next morning they soon realise that there are legal steps that have to be taken if the child is to be taken from his mother. After some digging, Rebecca learns that Diana was a friend of their mothers when she spent time in a mental institution after the breakup of her marriage. Diana had a mysterious skin condition which kept her living in the dark. Now, their mother has been refusing to take her medication which has been making Diana’s appearances increasingly frequent and terrifying. When she does appear, only in total darkness, she is a shadowy figure with wild black hair, long sinewy arms and claws. Having angered this evil entity, she is starting to take over their lives and they are terrified, not sure whether she is dead or supernatural or how far she will go.

    The acting in “Lights Out” is good. We get strong, nuanced performances by Bello, Palmer and Bateman. The characters are likeable and credible and Sandberg makes a good effort to develop them. Rebecca and Bret make a good team and while Rebecca and Martin might be estranged siblings, they finally really bond to try and save their mother. The remarkably accomplished Bello brings out the torment and frustration within Sophie. The opening scene is one of the most terrifying horror opening scenes I’ve seen in recent years. It sets the scene by introducing Diana and the film’s use of the dark. A woman is walking through a warehouse at night thinks she sees something as the automatic lights
    switch off. The figure disappears when she turns the lights back on, so she thinks she’s hallucinating, until that figure in the dark moves closer to her. A few minutes later, the mysterious figure strikes…..really chilling. “Lights Out” is quite short at 80 minutes but it’s just the right length to tell the story without dragging. Sandberg uses music sparingly and he doesn’t engage in multiple jumpy scares nor elaborate gore. I think this” is a very impressive debut that ought to be considered alongside recent standout horrors like “The Babadook”. It’s unsettling, creepy and tense. The central idea of a mysterious, malevolent figure that only appears when the lights are out and who disappears, physically as well
    as visibly, with the flip of a light switch, is enormously effective. “Lights Out” will certainly make you think twice before you hop into bed and turn the lights off and it will remain in your mind long after you leave the cinema.