Review: ‘Lights Out’ is scary in all the right places Special

Posted Jul 23, 2016 by Sarah Gopaul
‘Lights Out’ is the disturbing feature-length adaptation of a short that went viral about a thing that lurks in the darkness when you turn off the lights.
A scene from  Lights Out
A scene from 'Lights Out'
Warner Bros.
It’s not the actual darkness that frightens most people, but whatever danger may be lurking in the black void that they can’t see – and therefore can’t effectively defend against. Whether real or supernatural, we’re taught from an early age to be cautious of things that go bump in the night. Moreover the ancient dichotomy of light and dark is ingrained in our consciousness, inherently teaching that one is good and the other bad. Horror movies often exist in the shadows, taking advantage of these impulses and the lack of visibility to tell scary stories. Lights Out is one of the best concepts to leverage these fears in cinema.
Sophie (Maria Bello) suffered from depression since an early age, but with medication she’s been able to control it and nurture a satisfying home life – until recently. She stays up at night talking to someone in a seemingly empty room, frightening her son, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), who is increasingly convinced she’s not actually speaking to herself, but something that skulks in the shadows. His estranged half-sister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), is his only option to help their mother, and try and keep the greedy thing in the dark from killing them all.
In 2013, director David F. Sandberg and his wife made a super low-budget, two-and-a-half-minute short that unexpectedly went viral over the next couple of years. Now its core concept has been adapted into an almost equally creepy 90-minute feature. We’ve all thought we’ve seen something move in a shadow at one point or another, but this movie’s monster lives in those dark spaces. The most disturbing scenes involve the flickering of lights that allow the creature to invisibly move into increasingly threatening positions. Its dishevelled, slightly inhuman silhouette is all one needs to see to feel the goose flesh crawl across their skin and their hairs stand on end. Although there is the occasional jump scare spread throughout the narrative, it relies more on the perpetually eerie atmosphere that exists because one never really knows if the creature is present unless it wants you to know.
The other half of the story is a very human one about mental health, fractured families and emotional baggage. Even though there’s a real monster terrorizing their home, Sophie’s struggle with depression has been clearly difficult and had obvious effects on her children as well. After years of management she appears to have grown tired of pills and therapists, choosing instead to embrace her splintered reality and try to convince her loved ones to do the same. At the same time, Martin is attracting the attention of Child Services and Rebecca has trouble getting close to people, including her would-be boyfriend (Alexander DiPersia) who makes some amusing choices throughout the picture. As opposed to the supernatural terror, this movie explores the very real consequences of poor mental health.
Rebecca and Martin are central to the narrative, and young actors Palmer and Bateman respectively pull their weight in the picture. Rebecca is deliberately somewhat unlikeable at the film’s start, but as the audience gets to know her better they gain a better understanding of her prickly personality and discover other aspects of her character to appreciate. Even at such a young age, Martin is trying to mend the cracks in his family and face his fears head-on. Bello is very convincing as the unstable mother who clearly loves her kids, but whose judgement is destructively clouded.
By its nature, the feature is unable to maintain the eerie atmosphere of the short for the entire length of the film; but it’s scary in all the right places and tells an interesting story… and has provided social media users with an interesting new Snapchat lens.
Director: David F. Sandberg
Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman and Maria Bello