After a string of successful films and redefining the horror genre not once but twice, James Wan has now decided to take the producer’s seat for a while to help the newest generation of horror directors make a name for themselves. His first protege is David F. Sandberg who begins his directorial career with the feature length version of his award winning short film Lights Out. Will it be a successful first outing or should this film have been left in the dark?
The story for Lights Out is a rather ingenious one in that it isn’t your typical ghost story. The story follows a young woman named Rebecca who years prior had been left her home when her mother’s severe depression proved too much for her. It’s revealed that an entity that only appears in darkness is haunting Rebecca’s family and seeks to terror the family asunder. The initial interesting concept of the film is how the entity, Diana, functions. Diana can only appear in areas that are dark be they dark rooms or closest and even shadows in corners. This means she could appear anywhere at any time be it day or night which makes her a frightful and intimidating presence. This causes a great conflict for the characters as the need for more light in the dead of night causes them to become desperate which adds to the tension of the film. The scares themselves are rather decent as Sandberg has a good grasp of building tension and atmosphere the problem is with his payoff. Sandberg relies too heavily on Diana appear in darkness and then disappearing and after this routine goes on for a minute she moves in to attack only to disappear again. It’s effective the first two or three times but after a while the schtick wears thin and though Sandberg still does well with his suspense it soon becomes predictable where Diana will appear and when. Now the most interesting thing about Lights Out, the concept that truly makes it stand out is what Diana represents. Diana isn’t simply a malevolent entity doing evil deeds for evil’s sake but actually the physical representation of depression. It’s stated early in the film that Diana was committed to a mental institution after driving her father to commit suicide, it being said that she had a way of “getting in your head”. There she met Rebecca’s mother Sophie who was there to have her depression treated. Diana “befriended” Sophie and got in her head. Whenever Sophie got better Diana made sure she would relapse to keep her with her. During the events of the film we learn that Sophie is off her anti-depressants and with that Diana returns and convinces Sophie that she needs her. This make Sophie more and more miserable though she tries to keep the facade that she’s fine. There are nice subtle moments that Sandberg uses to emphasize this idea, one scene in particular has Diana slowly tugging Sophie back into her dark room when Rebecca, in the light, makes her feel happy for the first time in the film. Even the few deaths in the film can be seen as the depression driving people away so that the person afflicted is all alone with the depression as their only friend. It’s a really interesting idea and a more fascinating look at a person suffering form depression.
The characters for Lights Out are well written
Rebecca is a likable main character. What makes her so enjoyable is that from her appearance she seems incapable of doing much and her leaving her mother seems selfish. However it isn’t long before it is shown that she is the exact opposite. She does very well for herself and she very kind and immensely generous especially when she takes her younger brother away. It’s clear throughout that she only wants to do good for her family and does everything in her power to save them and drive Diana away for good.
Sophie is an incredibly sympathetic character. Like Rebecca she initially doesn’t seem like a sympathetic character being that she wrought Diana onto her family. However, as the film goes on we see that isn’t true. She’s a victim as much as anyone else and has suffered at Diana’s hands (or claws as it were) for her entire life. Her character goes through a great story arc that culminates well in the end, though not without a depressingly thought provoking problem.
Martin, Rebecca’s younger brother, is a surprisingly likable character. Typically in horror children characters only serve to screw things up and be a nuisance but Martin is an exception to that. Martin is a surprisingly intelligent character who knows whats going on. He’s also a very endearing character as he wishes to help his mother desperately though at times that often leads to brief moments of character regression.
Bret is Teresa’s boyfriend and honestly a pretty good character. His relationship with Rebecca is mostly well written and causes me to care for the character though he himself has his moments of sheer stupidity, though it at least comes from a good place.
Acting for Lights Out is well done by the cast
Teresa Palmer does well as Rebecca. Palmer gives an engaging performance throughout and some of the best moments in the film is when she works with others showing a broad range of emotions and talent while doing so.
Maria Bello gives one of her best performances in years as Sophie. She’s incredibly convincing in her role as she displays desperation, pain and sadness, even showing the fear her character feels in moments when she’s trying to convince those around her that Diana is good.
Gabriel Bateman does very well as Martin. Bateman is not only convincing as his character but his acting abilities seem to be that of a person far older then him and to be honest he may actually give the strongest performance in the entire film.
Alexander DiPersia gives a decent performance as Bret. Though nothing remotely bad with his performance DiPersia almost seems to pale in comparison to his stronger co-stars and seems rather held back in his performance.
Lastly the effects for Lights are very well made. The main effect is, of course, Diana appearing and disappearing in the dark and light. All in all it’s a very simple effect just simply editing it to make it seem like she disappears in the blink of a eye. Simple yet but the editing is so masterfully done and so seamless that Sandberg and his editors succeed in their illusion. The design of Diana is also well done thanks to the excellent lighting and almost Javier Botet style performance of Alicia Vela-Bailey, though when fully seen CG is used to show Diana’s form and though clashing with the rest of the film it’s overall decent considering the budget.
Final Thoughts: Lights Out wasn’t the grand slam I was hoping it would be. Though being a really interesting allegory for depression, having good tension, likable characters and good acting as well as some fine tuned editing The scares just become more and more predictable and that helped only to drag the film down a bit. Though not as scary as I wanted it to be Lights Out is still a well made and often times brilliant horror film.