Lights Out (2016)
Director: David Sandberg
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, Maria Bello
Synopsis: When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (terror throughout, violence including disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content)
Release Date: July 22, 2016
There's something about the dark that instinctively instills fear in each of us. Perhaps it's the need to see the unseen, as we are visual creatures who find it unnatural to have the inability to see our surroundings. Indeed, the only time we seem to prefer the dark is when we are sleeping. Even then, it's for our benefit of falling asleep faster--not for the desire to be actually lie in the darkness.
David Sandberg's directional debut Lights Out sets out to play on our fear of the dark, and it succeeds with flying colors. The film begins with a chilling scene in a mannequin warehouse (of all places) where a young woman that's leaving for the night encounters a being that appears and disappears at the flick of a switch. She warns her boss Paul (Billy Burke) before leaving, but Paul ends up being viscously executed at the hands of the creature.
The film jumps to several months later where Paul's college-aged stepdaughter Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) lives alone in an apartment, away from her mother Sophie (Marie Bello) and young brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman). Sophie is a troubled and disturbed woman whose depression has taken a severe toll on her and her relationship with Rebecca, who tries to avoid contact with her at all cost. Nevertheless, her brother Martin soon witnesses their mother talking to an imaginary friend, and thus becomes disturbed and starts losing sleep and falling asleep in school, causing the administrator to seek out Rebecca to take control of Martin's home situation. Although she thinks her mother is insane, Rebecca soon visits the house and encounters the terrifying being firsthand, and thus sets out to protect and free her brother and mother from its terror on the family.
Lights Out started as a 3-minute short film from Sandberg. After going viral and catching the attention of young horror master James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring), Sandberg was given the opportunity to make the short into a feature-length flick. At only 81 minutes, the film is a well-paced exercise that doesn't make the common horror mistake of skimping on its story or characters. Indeed, the story is simple, but it's original, which is a refreshing thing to see on the big screen--especially in the horror genre. The characters, meanwhile, are given enough depth for you to care about them and their situation, particularly the young Martin, who lives with his severely depressed mother. The only flat character comes from Rebecca's boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia), who almost seems thrown in but still manages to effectively contribute to the plot and Sophie and Martin's dire situation. Though the film doesn't possess any A-list actors, the whole cast gives solid performances, particularly Palmer who portrays a character that tries desperately to simultaneously repair her relationship with her mother while trying to figure out the origin and motivation behind the creature that haunts her mother and brother.
To the same degree that light supports the story of Lights Out, the lighting is expertly used in the cinematography of the film through unique and visually appealing lighting setups, utilizing warms and cools to create an eerie atmosphere and environment. This is notable even to the degree of the film exhibition itself as audiences are experiencing the film in a dark theatre--with only the screen itself providing the light. The film also utilizes Spielberg's Jaws aesthetic of being careful not to show too much of the creature, and the darkness is brilliantly utilized in the story to help hide the CGI, providing a visually convincing creature that would certainly look less realistic in the light.
Ultimately, the suspense of this film comes from the clever concept of the creature only being visible in the dark--allowing it to move anywhere unseen when the lights are on, leaving characters and audiences absolutely paralyzed as to where it will appear when the lights go off again. It's a unique, well-crafted idea that will inevitably linger with audiences after the credits roll.
Sandberg's Lights Out is sharply directed and provides original suspense along with solid performances and an emotionally-driven story to make for a chilling and resonant horror flick.