Lights out is a 2016 supernatural horror film. Directed by David F. Sandberg and starring Theresa Palmer (Warm Bodies), Maria Bello (A History of Violence) and Alexander DiPersia. The film was adapted from Sandberg’s own short of the same name from 2013.
The film follows a dysfunctional family unit where Rebecca (Palmer) has become estranged from her mother Sophie (Bella). Struggling to raise her other child Martin on her own after the death of her husband, Rebecca becomes involved in the welfare of her younger sibling. However, Rebecca soon realises that the reason behind her mother’s failing mental health is linked to a figure from her past “Diana”, who now haunts the family but only under cover of complete darkness. Remembering Diana from her own youth, Rebecca investigates the origins of the spectre and attempts to unravel the mysterious link between Diana and her own family before it’s too late.
Lights Out made a huge impression on the horror community when it emerged as a startling short in 2013, and rightfully so. The singular image of a ghoulish silhouette that could be glimpsed one moment, and disappear with the flick of a light switch was genius in its simplicity. This carries through really well to the feature film as the mechanism is not only terrifying but extremely relatable and the interplay between light and dark evokes the most memorable of the German expressionist horrors (Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari). Similarities to Mama (2013), another feature film adapted from a short, are also unavoidable but favourable as both films succeed in adapting their simple ideas for a larger story.
Sadly, the film is hugely let down by its cast and it’s script with delivery of much of the dialogue feeling like the proverbial bucket of cold water after the heart pounding sequences featuring Diana. The exposition is clunky and the backstory constructed to flesh out Diana is simultaneously half baked and overwrought. Admirable attempts are made to create the kind of sympathetic backstory that is so effective in Japanese horror but It didn’t really work and I struggled to invest in any of the characters to a large degree. That being said, the nail biting visual direction and pitch perfect sound design serve to compensate for these shortfalls on many occasions, still making for an effective, traditional horror movie.
Lights Out is far from perfect, but, it serves to capture the suspense and atmosphere from its original incarnation in a way that many would not have expected. Best enjoyed with lights, and brain, turned off to enable maximum immersion into the terrifying world of the shadows. I guarantee you’ll think twice the next time you use a light switch.
**** 4 Stars
What did you think of Lights Out? How do you think it compares to the short?