Fear of the dark is one of the most relatable terrors that most of us have experienced at one time or another. It’s the basis for countless horror movies and, done well, still manages to provide tension and goosebumps. Lights Out seeks to capitalise on those fears but only sporadically succeeds in doing so.
All the ingredients are in place to make Lights Out a cracking horror yarn. The story is based on first time feature director, David F. Sandberg’s much-loved (and viewed) 2013 short film of the same name. Aussie horror maestro, James Wan, is on board in a producing capacity, which lends the project some genre cred.
The story involves a family secret that begins to unravel as Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) becomes increasingly concerned that her brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), is falling afoul of her mother, Sophie’s (Maria Bello) increasingly erratic behaviour. Said behaviour is much more than mere mental illness, however, and involves a childhood friend of Sophie’s named Diana who is the very definition of a bad influence. Without getting too specific, Diana can only exist in the dark – leading to some extremely clever sequences in which light is used during tense games of cat and mouse between various characters and Diana. The problem is, despite quality actresses like Maria Bello, none of the characters are terribly interesting, representing unconvincing archetypes (the bad girl, the crazy mum, the precocious kid) rather than feeling like fleshed out human beings.
This sense of blandness sadly extends to most of the action between jump scares too, with TV quality, over lit direction killing any genuine sense of atmosphere. Sandberg’s noisy jump scare scenes are a little more effective, with solid jolts along the way, but they’re all a bit familiar, and are unlikely to linger long after the film ends. At a slender 81 minutes, Lights Out certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it’s good to see a fresh horror property that isn’t a remake, reboot, or sequel. Ultimately, however, the experience is a rather pedestrian one and unlikely to leave you needing to sleep with the lights on.