Sell all your stocks immediately and invest in companies that make candles, flashlights, light bulbs or anything else that creates illumination. There’s going to be a run on those items with the release of “Lights Out.”
Director David F. Sandberg has teamed with writer Eric Heisserer to create a film that proves it is possible to generate long-lasting scares without resorting to gore. Playing on the general fear of what lurks in the dark, the pair have created a product that will terrorize moviegoers without turning their stomachs.
Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is falling asleep in class. It’s not that he’s a slacker but that he lives in fear of a dark figure that haunts the shadows of his home. The only way to keep the creature, known as Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey), away is to stay in the light.
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Martin’s half-sister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), comes to the rescue. She has a very personal understanding of what Martin is going through. Only their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), a woman under heavy medication for depression, can help.
Diana’s obsession with Sophie means anyone who might get between them is in serious danger.
Sandberg cleverly uses light and dark spaces to build suspense and terror. An early showdown with Diana in a factory works because of the large circles of light separated by blackness.
What makes the movie even scarier is that it is anchored in just enough fact that it lifts this above just being a vicious specter hunting the family. The mother’s mental problems linger over the events to both serve as a realistic jumping off point for the fantasy and to create a little bit of sympathy for the creature.
The sympathy leaves quickly as Sandberg scares both with appearances by Diana and scenes where there is nothing more than the anticipation. Those scenes are even scarier because it’s so easy to imagine Diana in every small dark space on the screen.
It also is a plus that Rebecca is obviously damaged goods from her time living in the house. This comes through her awkward relationship with Bret (Alexander DiPersia). It’s a foreshadowing of what will happen to Martin if he can’t get away from the horror.
Palmer was a strong choice for the role as she’s shown in past works like “Point Break” and “Warm Bodies” that she can play tough or vulnerable. This film shows she can also play someone who is both and that leaves her a little broken.
It’s a shame Bello doesn’t get more to do as she’s a first-rate actor. Sandberg needed her acting skills to make the movie’s big ending moment play with both pain and power. Palmer is equally good selling the scene.
Amplified audio sounds also serve as such sharp triggers to impending scares that even without an appearance by the demon, the noise triggers a terrified reaction.
The film’s weakness is Diana’s look. The black, silhouetted figure who can twist and turn her body looks like ghouls in other horror movies. But, while Diana looks familiar, she’s still scary enough to make sleeping with a light on sound like a great idea.
“Lights Out” uses the formula of trying to scare the moviegoer rather than leaving them queasy from seeing buckets of blood. It’s easy to shock with blood and guts. Sandberg takes the horror path less traveled these days and commits to a film that piles on old-fashioned scares.
He does his job so well that “Lights Out” is lights out one of the best horror films of the year.