I’m a horror fan so I’d rather watch a bad horror movie than a good romantic comedy. Well, Lights Out is not only not bad, it’s actually scary good. How many of us have been or still are afraid of the dark? I slept with a night light for two years as a child after watching some of Night of the Living Dead. Granted, that was to keep zombies away, but the light gave me comfort. We all have a fear of the unknown. When the lights are out, what could be hiding in the shadows?
This question is answered in Lights Out, the feature film debut for director David F. Sandberg. The film has an interesting history. The two minute short was made by Sandberg and his wife, Lotta Losten and was submitted to a U.K. short film challenge. Though the film finished in the Top Ten, Sandberg won the Best Director award. Its YouTube video, however, went viral. Soon enough, Hollywood came calling. The film went viral in late 2014 and in early 2015, Sandberg and Losten were flown to Los Angeles to meet with studio executives. In late 2015, the film was in production and is now being released. For those who may not know, this is an incredibly short time for a film to be made.
The filmmakers like to call Lights Out a family drama with horror thrown in and they’re right. The film centers around Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) who moved away from home when her mother Sophie (Maria Bello) began acting strangely after the death of her father. Rebecca’s younger stepbrother (Gabriel Bateman) is now exhibiting similar behavior. Much of Sophie’s problems lie in her insistence that her deceased childhood friend, Diana, whose skin condition kept her living in the dark, is still in their lives.
While Diana provides the necessary horror, the film succeeds due to a mix of genuine scares and non-stereotypical character development. So many horror movies seem to use a cut-and-paste method of using every stereotypical horror movie character cliché. Lights Out wisely avoids this. The emotions and relationships seem real. This is especially true of Rebecca and her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia), who have a fun, playful relationship that eases the tension. While it’s fun sometimes to “root” for the stereotypical annoying character to die, you care about these characters and that makes the film even scarier.
And that’s the whole point. We go to horror movies to be scared. Another cliché Lights Out manages to avoid is the stereotypical cheap scare. How many times has a character heard a noise only for a cat to jump out of the dark or something? Another cliché is so cliché that it was even spoofed in a popular Geico commercial. How many times have we seen a character in a horror movie do something so unbelievably stupid that you can’t help but yell at the screen? Again, Lights Out wisely avoids this, for the most part anyways.
The first scene is basically a bigger budget, and longer, version of the short and even features Lotta Losten again as the woman seeing the entity in the dark. Within the first minute, you’re hooked. You know you’re going to be in for a thrill ride. And the thing with a good thrill ride is that it’s all action and no filler. You ride a roller coaster to feel your stomach sink as you go down the big hill or go upside down. You ride a thrill ride to be, well, thrilled. As a thrill ride, Lights Out also succeeds. It’s a taut one hour and twenty minutes. That’s not a typo. 120 minutes is the norm for most movies. Pick almost any movie and you could take 15, 20, 30 minutes out of it and you don’t feel like you would miss anything. With Lights Out, every second counts in this summer thrill ride into darkness.
Lights Out opens in theaters July 22.