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Review: Lights Out – “A genuinely scary villain”

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To find darkness inherently scary is human. Despite the irrationality we have all felt vulnerable in the pitch black of the evening when things go bump in the night. It’s this darkness where the unknown exists, a concept made literal in Director David F. Sandberg’s first feature film Lights Out. It follows a family plagued by a spectre only visible in darkness. An otherworldly silhouette that disappears once the lights are turned on. Stay in the light and you are safe but find yourself in the dark and you are at its mercy.

This chilling premise was first realised as a short film which impressed producer James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) enough to expand it into a feature length film. Sandburg doesn’t wait to show us the rules of this deadly ghoul. The chilling opening finds a poor soul haunted in a creepy factory when the lights go out. As he runs into a corridor with intervals of light, we see how this thing can only affect him in the darkness.

It’s a simple concept, ruthless in its ability to scare. Helped by some inventive visuals it can be genuinely creepy. A humanoid silhouette with long creeping fingers and Jawa like eyes dully shining as it scratches the floor at the foot of a bed. The film uses this premise for some nice touches which involve various types of light, torches, car headlights and UV lights to name a few. These are playful but more could have definitely been explored here as it has the potential to be a more memorable horror monster.

The expansion of run time (which is still quite short coming in at around 80 minutes) allows for an attempt at a richer plot. This follows young Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and his mother (Maria Bello) who is suffering from depression. Martin starts to see a ghost in the dark only to find his mother actually talking to it. Scared he calls for reinforcements in the form of his sister (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend (Alexander DiPersia) to discover what this thing is and how to stop it.

The acting in general is a bit of a mixed bag but this is more a result of the script which has problems in effectively explaining the backstory. It suffers due to some unsubtle dumps of background information and throw away dialogue due to the sheer explanation of why all this is happening.

There is some meaning within the plot but it gets muddled in this exposition and mythology. Lights Out could be a parable about the effects of depression on maternal bonds, the beast a manifestation of the shadow that mental illness can cast on a family. The film teases this but instead concentrates on jamming the convoluted backstory into the short run time. No one expects a horror film to be socially responsible, we want fun and scares but a bit more character probing would make the film all feel less one dimensional.

It’s this flaw that proves fatal. Along with some clunky exposition and bad dialogue it leaves us solely relying on the concept, one which is strong, but without the backup of more depth of character and story, means that towards the end it collapses under the weight of carrying the film. It is also a real shame as again the potential here has been squandered, with the additional story being so weak you might as well just watch the short film instead.

But you can’t judge a film by missed opportunities. In the end Lights Out certainly is far from perfect, it has clear flaws around its story but they aren’t enough to discard the film entirely. There is something here worth watching, it has a genuinely scary villain, a great concept and at times pushes for some good scares. It’s never going to be a classic but if you can put expectations of story to one side and just go along with the ride you might have some fun. Just leave the lights on when it’s finished.

3-out-of-5

Light’s Out is in UK cinemas from 18th August 2016.

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One Comment

  1. my son is 12 years old and saw this advert,at 8:00pm and is now scared about turning his bedroom light on. I really think this advert should be toned down,a bit or put on a bit later at night.

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