David F. Sandberg makes his directorial debut in this horror film from the same studio that brought “The Conjuring” and “The Conjuring 2,” which I reviewed in this article. James Wan was the director of both films and serves as a producer in “Lights Out.” The protagonist of this story is Teresa Palmer, known for roles in “I Am Number Four” and “Warm Bodies.” She stars along with Maria Bello, known for roles in “Secret Window” and “A History of Violence,” and Gabriel Bateman, who worked with James Wan in “Annabelle.” To round out the cast are Billy Burke, from The Twilight series, and Alexander DiPersia, who takes the role of boyfriend to a lovable level.
Teresa Palmer stars as Rebecca who lives above a tattoo parlor in an apartment that looks decorated by Spencer’s and Hot Topic. Her dark clothes don’t scare away her boyfriend who’d like more commitment in their relationship. However, she has some personal demons to deal with, including her estranged mother. Her mother, Sophie, played wonderfully by Maria Bello, suffers from severe depression and anxiety with hints that her mental state is getting worse. Sophie talks to shadows and keeps the house dark. Her body twitches uncontrollably and she’s withdrawn from everyone, especially at night. The outside world thinks her mental states is due to the loss of her second husband. Rebecca’s step-brother, Martin, suspects something more sinister is going on, but he has no proof. Instead, he falls asleep during class because he’s afraid to turn out the lights at home. Social services is called in, but believes this is just a reaction to the recent familial situation. No one else believes him except Rebecca who realizes that they share the same childhood nightmares. Then the shadows come alive and those nightmares turn out to be real. They soon discover that their mother’s mental state is at the center of everything and she holds the answer.
The movie was only an hour and twenty minutes long, making for a very quick story. However, most of the film was taken up with repetition. The script spent a lot of time showing versus telling. When explaining Rebecca’s relationship with her mother, they not only showed the animosity between the two, but also told us about it. Any plot point that was shown visually was then explained to the audience. It felt like the film didn’t give the audience enough credit to figure out the storyline on their own. By not trusting the audience, the script prevented the story from being anything but black and white (or on and off). This prevents the film from being as enjoyable as it could be.
Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello, and crew play their parts admirably. Bello’s attempt at a mentally unstable, but loving mother is convincing. Palmer plays the angry young adult well, but fleshes the character out enough to allow us to sympathize with her. Even stereotypical horror movie roles like “the lovable boyfriend” and “scared little kid” are grown into actual characters the audience can relate to. I was impressed by Gabriel Bateman’s performance as Martin. He made Martin more than just a scared child. He made Martin brave when it matters and smart when he needs to be. The characters are all believable. I just with the script was too.
Sandberg’s directorial debut is a direct result of a short film he created of the same name. He provides great direction to the cast and times the “jump scares” appropriately without abusing it. His makes darkness its own character, by panning the camera out just enough to make you think the Big Bad is lurking just beneath the veil. This adds an effective creep factor which served well enough to make one audience member scream when a character dropped a box. The rest of the audience laughed, but that was only to hide our own jitters as Sandberg played with our childhood fears of the dark. It isn’t too scary though. The story was short enough that nothing stuck long enough to have a lasting effect. The short film time made each scary sequence rushed, preventing anything from getting too scary.
I would recommend this movie for someone looking for a lighter horror movie. You’ll be able to sleep with the lights out.