Movie Review: Lights Out

lights out poster


Director: David F. Sandberg
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Stars: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello


It has been a great year for horror. With solid sequels to The Conjuring and The Purge, as well as surprise suspenseful hits such as The Shallows, comes an original within the franchise universe: Lights Out. For those of you familiar with its creepy trailer and are worried that the best is given away, have no fear except for the dark theater where you will inevitably sit in anticipation. Lights Out is one of the scariest, and dare I say cleverest horror film to come out in years.

Teresa Palmer, best known as the love interest in the zombie comedy Warm Bodies, plays the independent and rebellious Rebecca. She is friendly but detached, as exemplified by her unwillingness to label her handsome beau Bret (Alexander DiPersia) as her boyfriend, and more profoundly, her estranged relationship with her mentally disturbed mother Sophie (Maria Bello). Rebecca’s “living-the-single” life is uprooted when her younger brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is having problems at school, stemming from mysteries at home that relate to Sophie’s psychological state. Rebecca does the sisterly thing and investigates.

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Those mysteries, as Rebecca, Martin, and Bret will soon learn in one scary encounter after another, are caused by a witch-like creature haunting the family, but who is only able to navigate spaces in the dark. Somehow this creature has a connection to Sophie, so Rebecca and Martin must find a way to help their afflicted mother while fighting this ghost that haunts them all.

Regardless of plot, the concept of the film is enough to conjure up childhood fears of the dark, where one must sleep with a nightlight, or never, ever look under the bed. Lights Out works for these reasons and more, executing this demon-in-the-dark concept in sharp and clever direction that emanates like a chiaroscuro effect (a staple characteristic of suspense and horror). The way our protagonists use light and dark to evade from this creature is suspenseful and downright scary, especially during the film’s final climax, one of the best I have seen in years.

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This creature, I should add, is one of the more memorable supernatural villains in contemporary horror. Her mannerisms, body type, and fear tactics are reminiscent of Samara in The Ring and more recently Bathsheba from The Conjuring. The composite of a J-Horror ghost blended with a recent spate of demon-esque witches works, and the plot serves this new character well without creating a back-story that seems too implausible even for a genre film such as this.

Most importantly, do not be deterred by its PG-13 rating. Grotesque violence is not seen nor is it needed. By removing excessive blood and gore – save for a scene at the beginning – the writer and the director were challenged with scaring an audience using cinematography to establish tone and turn something as innocuous as light into a credible villain. That’s a good thing and an incredible feat in a genre where most PG-13 films are crass, money-grabbing slasher flicks where the victim is as old as half the audience in attendance. Not here. Lights Out will appeal to many because it is clever, suspenseful, and fun.

Eric Dinsmore

Twitter: @dinsmorality

Images: IMDb