Synopsis: When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.
Release Date: July 22, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13
A couple of years ago, filmmaker David F. Sandberg made a terrifying short film called Lights Out that went viral, scaring the pants off of internet surfers everywhere and attracting the attention of horror wunderkind James Wan (the man behind Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring). Wan was so impressed by the short that he offered Sandberg a production deal to turn the short into a feature, and a full-length Lights Out was born.
Lights Out is about a little boy named Martin (Gabriel Bateman from Annabelle) who is haunted by encounters with a mysterious spirit that can only be seen in the dark. His older sister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer from Warm Bodies), recognizes his behavior, as she had experiences with the same entity when she was a child. Along with her boyfriend, Bret (Hemingway‘s Alexander DiPersia), Rebecca discovers that the apparition is connected to her mentally unstable mother, Sophie (Maria Bello from Prisoners and Third Person). Rebecca must fight to save her brother, her mother, and herself from the vengeful spirit.
Although Sandberg does an admirable job of capturing the tone and feel of his horrifying short, the long-form Lights Out is a dud. From a technical standpoint, the film is well-made, with inventive cinematography (courtesy of James Wan’s Furious 7 director of photography Marc Spicer) and creepy visual effects. The capable cast gives it their all, but unfortunately for them, there’s just not that much for them to work with. The tension, suspense, and dread of the short simply doesn’t translate into the feature.
The weaknesses in Lights Out can be found squarely within its script. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (who, as the writer of both the A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Thing remakes, is no stranger to disappointing horror fans) seems to have been shooting for economy in the story, but at a tad over eighty minutes, Lights Out could stand to be about fifteen minutes longer. The added time could be spent developing the characters so that the audience actually cares about them. Or, maybe the extra minutes could be used to fatten up the far-fetched origin story for the spook. For a movie that unfolds as slowly as it does, the plot moves quickly, as if it’s purposely skipping over chunks of exposition. Had Heisserer let his story breathe a little and explored a few subplots, he and Sandberg would have had a much more effective film. As it stands now, it’s a bit undercooked.
By the time the credits roll, Lights Out just reeks of wasted potential. The original short was so great, and the feature doesn’t do it justice. David F. Sandberg will be just fine, though. Wan has already tapped the director to helm the forthcoming Annabelle 2, so in effect, Lights Out basically serves its purpose as an exercise for Sandberg to get his feet wet as a feature filmmaker. So, in that regard, mission accomplished.
The reason that the original Lights Out short was so frightening was because it played upon the basic human fear of the dark. Unfortunately, the horror that was manufactured by the short does not translate well into a feature length film. The lights-on-lights-off, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t gimmick was horrifying as the backbone of a three-minute short, but it gets repetitive and tedious as an eighty minute movie, even with the slight variations (there’s a fun spin on it that involves timed floodlights in the opening scene). The scares in Lights Out are a one-trick pony, and that pony was used to greater effect in the short. There aren’t any other types of scares in the movie, so the movie as a whole just isn’t very scary. For real scares, you’d be better served to just track down Sandberg’s original short.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): David F. Sandberg
- Producer(s): James WanEric HeissererLawrence Grey
- Screenwriter(s): Eric HeissererDavid F. Sandberg
- Cast: Teresa Palmer (Rebecca)Gabriel Bateman (Martin)Alexander DiPersia (Bret) Maria Bello (Sophie)Billy Burke (Paul)
- Editor(s): Michel Aller
- Cinematographer: Marc Spicer
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Kristin M. Burke
- Casting Director(s): Rich Delia
- Music Score: Benjamin Wallfisch
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA