(dir. David F. Sandberg)
A young woman, Rebecca, attempts to save her family from a mysterious entity that thrives on darkness and holds a special connection to her mother.
Lights Out operates around an unsubtle metaphor for depression, but the fact that the film’s themes are apparent don’t make it any less successful a horror movie (i.e. The Babadook). Where Sandberg’s film differs from so many recent studio horror films is that it actually cares about its characters. Call this the James Wan effect, but the days of expendable characters for the sake of horror beats are nearly gone. Not only does Mario Bello give a strong performance of a woman battling severe depression, but the film actually takes time to explore the effects of her mental illness on herself and her family, giving Bello’s performance time to take hold and allow the allegorical nature of the film to feel fully explored. We’re rooted in the reality of something very costly and personal before the film takes off, preventing the film from feeling like it’s exploiting mental illness. Instead, Lights Out seeks to understand the effects of severe depression and isolation and achieves this through a monster.
Much of what makes David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out work as well as it does is the design of the entity, Diana. Like The Ring’s Samara over a decade ago, Diana’s uncanny form and movements give the scares in Lights Out plenty of mileage. There’s never a moment in the film where Diana’s appearance isn’t jolting, even though these burst of adrenaline become less successful once we’re given a full look at her face. But for most of the film’s runtime, Diana’s purity of design has all the makings of a horror icon.
Sandberg cleverly uses light and darkness to create some of the film’s most effective moments and visual gags. Diana can’t attack her would-be victim in the light, so Sandberg has fun playing with power outages, flashlights, lighters, and cell phones to create a cat and mouse game that’s worthy of the film’s supernatural set-up. Lights Out never becomes particularly shocking but it’s a hell of a ride that’s an absolute blast to watch with a crowd.