Review: LIGHTS OUT

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SHOCK reviews new jump-scare horror flick LIGHTS OUT.

Director David Sandberg’s LIGHTS OUT isn’t a bad horror movie. It’s well produced, acceptably performed, with decent special effects and a barrage of shocks. But we’ve seen it before. Again and again. And again. The essence of the film is trotted out ad nausem on YouTube in those infernal “jump scare” viral videos, one of which – Sandberg’s well-shared original 3 minute LIGHTS OUT short – serves as the blueprint for this feature version. And while that’s a novel point of entry for a Hollywood horror flick, LIGHTS OUT seems content to simply replicate its predecessor’s beats for over 80 jittery minutes, repeating the formula and rendering its power predictable. If that pitch appeals to you, you may embrace the movie a bit more than we did.

Teresa Palmer stars as Rebecca, a tough, independent young woman whose perfectly bearded lover Bret (Alexander DiPersia, who reminded me of a young Eddie Vedder) moons over her, valiantly trying to forge a commitment that Rebecca is unable to give. Meanwhile her 10 year old half brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is navigating a living Hell with their widowed mother Sophie (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE’s Maria Bello) who has apparently lost her marbles, chatting away endlessly to an unseen presence that she calls Diana. Except one night, Martin actually sees Diana, her long shadowy fingers scratching the walls, her raspy voice hissing in the dark. Martin runs to his sister for help and soon, the night-crawling specter (Diana only appears in the dark and is repelled by both natural and artificial light) is haunting her as well.

Dragging her hapless himbo along for the ride, Rebecca pulls a Scooby-Doo and investigates the mystery, which is a fairly easy bit of sleuthing considering her wacky mom keeps well-organized and preserved boxes of expository files stacked in the study. Turns out Diana was in life some class of light sensitive child who now, in death has attached herself to the only person who showed any kindness to her, oddly opting to make Sophie’s life a blood-spattered nightmare. It’s like a supernatural riff on SINGLE WHITE FEMALE with a dearth of light-bulbs and wealth of flashlights.

The living human person I saw LIGHTS OUT with was in a state of physical terror for virtually the entirety of the film’s running time, flailing her arms and hiding her eyes. Certainly, watching her involuntarily wither was more amusing than watching the movie itself. The scares aren’t the issue though. The big problem with LIGHTS OUT is just how ordinary it is. It feels made by committee, like it was produced in a lab. It’s safe, predictable, over-plotted and yet under-developed.

There’s the germ of a good psychodrama here, however.

Recently, similarly PG-13 rated horror flick THE BOY (read our glowing review here) managed to fully exploit the dark, dangerous drama at its core while still staying safely nestled within its mass-audience pleasing rating. That was a great, Gothic and eccentric modern horror film. LIGHTS OUT doesn’t have the guts to “go there”.

Thankfully, 3 out of 4 of the lead actors deliver solid work (to be fair, DiPersia isn’t given much to work with). As the resilient heroine, Palmer is excellent with an intelligent beauty that makes you follow along on her journey, even if you know full well what her destination will be. The chemistry she shares with young Bateman is equally effective and, when Sandberg allows the film to breathe, their bond is even moving. You care about these siblings and have empathy for the ways in which they’ve had to suffer through the troubled home life they’ve long had to tolerate. And Bello is effectively haggard and magnificent as the mother held hostage by the horror she innocently helped birth.

Ultimately, LIGHTS OUT is a perfectly acceptable waste of time for those looking for an orgy of jump scares, professionally framed. It’s just a shame that Sandberg and executive producer James Wan didn’t dig a bit deeper into the real darkness that bubbles below the film’s surface.