In 2014, David Sandberg and Lotta Losten made a hair-raising short titled Lights Out – a story about a woman who sees a creepy figure every time she turns out the lights. Millions of YouTube views and nightlight purchases later, Lights Out has been adapted to the big screen.
The feature film expands the Lights Out universe from one person to a family that’s being haunted by an evil spirit who can only haunt them in the dark. After Martin’s (Gabriel Bateman) father is mysteriously killed, he’s left at home with his mom (played by Maria Bello) who talks to her mysterious friend at night. It’s not long before Martin is visited by the entity, and his older sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is the only one who believes him.
Rebecca and Martin try to protect their mom and figure out what’s happening in their home and why.
Lights Out started as a 3 minute short. As spine-chilling as it is, expanding to a 81 minute feature meant adding the usual horror tropes. If I was playing Scary Movie Bingo, I would’ve hit Bingo by the 45 minute mark. There’s scary family history, flashbacks, old tape recorded therapy sessions, someone looking at a bunch of photos like they’re reading hieroglyphics, vintage video footage of creepy kids, and people walking into the dark places they have no business being.
There are no big “wow” moments or scenes that are very memorable. The unique premise and jump scares are strung together well enough to make an interesting horror story. The film movies at a pace that doesn’t allow you think about preposterous the story is.
As formulaic as the film is, the best part is the third act when Martin, Rebecca, and her boyfriendish character Bret (Alexander DiPersia) decided to have an intervention with their mom. Not only do they go at night, they walk around the house as if there isn’t an evil spirit attacking people in the dark. They treat their overnight stay like a slumber party with mom and her scary friend. People are randomly left alone, mom gets to do whatever in her room, and there aren’t nearly enough lights on. I would sleep wrapped up in Christmas lights like a mummy. I might not sleep well, but I’d be alive in the morning.
This film is a reminder that most scary movies take place in a fictional world where scary movies don’t exist. Why else would these people do the idiotic things they do? Why would anyone walk down to a dark basement? Why would anyone call the cops on an evil spirit? What good is a gun going to do? Why are people staring at the flickering light when they should probably run?
The star of Lights Out is easily Maria Bello. She plays a very convincing crazy mother. She’s absolutely amazing during the table scene when Rebecca is trying to have an intervention. The way she attempts to rationalize what’s happening in her home is amazing. The film could’ve used more of Bello’s mental unraveling during the discovery of the evil spirit. She even shines in a scene when mother and son’s movie night has a third wheel show up.
The movie does use some great effects during some of the attacks. How dark they make everything around the spirit makes her look a little extra scary. Some of the light/dark gags are well done, especially the gun scene.
Horror movie tropes and unexplainable behavior aside, Lights Out is enjoyable. Outside of Bello, the rest of the cast strolls through the movie as bad ghost detectives and bait for jump scares. The movie delivers a lot more scares and laughs than expected. Director David Sandberg planted seeds for a potential horror franchise. I’d be interested to see what he brings to the table in a sequel.