Based on his short film of the same name (which you can find on Youtube), David F. Sandberg has crafted a taut and terrifying horror that is sure to be one of the best of the year (or even in recent times).
The film follows Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) as she tries to help her mother through her mental illness and the way it appears to affect her younger brother. However, as the incidents occur, she comes to realise there is something much more sinister haunting her family – something that only appears in the dark.
This premise plays off one of our basic fears: the dark, ensuring that the fear not only seeps in whilst you’re sat in the cinema screen, but is sure to return when you go to bed, and may make you a little hesitant to turn off your bedside lamp, or sprint for the safety of your bedsheets after pressing the lightswitch. This sets up a great basis for an effective horror, and Sandberg expertly builds on that basis to eek out its full potential.
The film doesn’t follow the predictable horror patterns we’ve come to expect, making the scares, when they come, much more impactful. You may think you know what is coming when the camera is positioned a certain way, or a door handle jiggles, but Sandberg defies what you think you know, leaving you more vulnerable to the well-crafted scares. This allows for fantastic jump scares (of which there are a mass in this film), so expect lots of screams in the screen. The film also doesn’t play with the audience as much as other films with fake build-ups. This leads to less laughs of relief at false jumps, sustaining the film’s dark tone.
The performances are strong, helping to invest the audience in the story. Palmer’s character is also much smarter that so many horror protagonists do, making it much easier to root for her, and making the film a little more believable. The young Gabriel Bateman is also fantastic at selling the story. The chemistry and play off between the characters also helps to bring the emotional thread of the film to life (the existence of an actual human story is also part of what separates it from other recent horror films). Maria Bello is also impressive, being given a slight twist on her perfected distraught mother role.
The film’s short running time ensures the story is taut and lean, not outstaying its welcome. Although it may seem a little too short and slightly underdeveloped, that could even be purely because it doesn’t stick rigidly to the usual formula. It also arguably wraps up a little too quickly in its final moments, which could have been prolonged even slightly for greater tension and emotional release.
Overall, Lights Out is an imperfect but extremely effective horror that takes a while to shake once you’ve walked out of the cinema (and will certainly ensure you switch your lamp on a few times as you try to go to sleep).
Also, look out for the moment an iPhone screen replaces the crucifix used to ward off evil.
Ah, the modern world.