Lights Out is a horror film I wish would have played when I was in middle school, because horror films of the mid-aughts seemed only to be marketed to teenagers and were never very good films—even if teenagers don’t always focus on the screen.
However, teenagers (Lights Out is only rated PG-13) will not be making out in the back row of this film’s auditoriums. It is too spooky, and flirts with hairs on the back of necks.
Our protagonists are half-siblings, a young boy and his adult sister, and they are both haunted at night by a demonic ghost named Diana with blades for fingers, who has been inextricably linked to their mentally unstable mother since a childhood stay at an asylum.
When the lights are out Diana likes to carve her name into their wooden bedroom floors and attempt to kill them in the darkness. However, she cannot bear the light, so lamps, candles and flashlights keep her at bay. Unfortunately Diana strategizes in cutting electrical cords, removing lightbulbs and blacking out the family’s mini-mansion.
Unsurprisingly, the film’s lighting is an important element of the scenography, and Lights Out is lit with precision. This creatively challenges the cinematography since the focus of its most scary scenes follows an assortment of lights used to defend against certain murder. This is a natural amplifier for anxiety because wind-up flash lights die and candles get blown out.
The anticipation of darkness is what makes Lights Out fun, and provokes the film’s few moments of cathartic laughter. Even though the biology behind the medical accident that ghost-ifies Diana is never quite rationalized, she is a terrifying, unpredictable bogeywoman. Who hasn’t met the fear of a dark, unfinished basement at night—even without being locked in by a killer ghost-demon?
Hats tipped to debuting director David F. Sandberg for his first major film project, though he was likely convenienced by the film’s producers and their depth of experience in the horror genre, including films such as The Thing, Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious. Lights Out is paced effectively, if a bit formulaically, with a skim-ish script, clocking at only an hour and 21 minutes, so it is over before you start want to sneak a peak at the clock on your cell phone.
This means that the film doesn’t drag much with the typical unimaginative dialogue between dumbfounded characters struggling to mentally accept the terrorized situation in which they find themselves. On the the flip side this also means that the actors have been allowed a little too much indulgence with nonverbal facial theatrics, but they earn the right because their palpable fear is contagious throughout an auditorium.
If you like the casual jaunt of seeing a horror film in theatres, this is a good dose of temporary escapism.