Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David F Sandberg
Stars: Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Andi Osho, Maria Russell.
The best horror films have featured nasty boogeymen that haunt our dreams. In the 80s we had the likes of Michael Myers, Freddie Krueger and Jason Vorhees. More recently we’ve had the apparitions of The Babadook and It Follows to creep us out. Now director David F Sandberg gives us a chilling creation that plays on our innate fear of the dark and of creatures lurking in the dark with Lights Out, the best new horror film for some time. He has given us a villain that was created largely by the power of a troubled mind and a fragile psyche.
This is the debut feature film for Sandberg, and he demonstrates a great understanding of the tropes and pacing of the genre. Lights Out is an extension of his own 2013 short film of the same name that made the rounds of the festival circuit. It caught the attention of Warner Bros and executive producer James Wan, the modern master of horror who has given us the nasty torture porn franchise of Saw as well as the more subtle supernatural horror of Insidious and The Conjuring, etc. His fingerprints are definitely on this effective and scary thriller that will have you turning on all the lights in your house and checking your closets and under your bed when you leave the cinema.
If you stay in the light you are safe, but if you venture into the dark then you are prey for this sinister and very nasty entity that lives in the dark. Young Martin (Gabriel Bateman, from tv series Outcast, American Gothic, etc) has been having sleepless nights at home because of the strange behaviour of his mother Sophie (Maria Bello). She is suffering from a deep manic depression, after the brutal and mysterious murder of her husband (Billy Burke), and she spends a lot of time locked away inside her darkened bedroom, talking to herself, or the strange figure known as Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey). Diana is a sinister entity that can travel through darkness, and is somehow linked to Sophie through a childhood incident.
When he keeps falling asleep at school, the concerned nurse contacts his estranged sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) who left home years ago because of her mother’s behaviour. Rebecca and her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) try to protect Martin and solve the riddle of the nasty entity that has attached itself to her mother. Sophie is in denial over Diana’s evil intentions. Diana is mostly seen as a demonic silhouette, which makes the character even more unsettling.
Co-writer Eric Heisserer knows the tropes of the genre having written films like The Thing, Final Destination 5 and the reboot of A Nightmare On Elm Street. He has done a great job of expanding Sandberg’s original concept. Also the film is grounded by its exploration of the dysfunctional family dynamics that have allowed Diana to thrive. And while Lights Out does feature some of the usual cliches, it provides quite a few thrills and genuinely scary moments. Sandberg serves some effective visceral scares, but he also uses some moments of dark humour to alleviate the tension. Cinematographer Marc Singer, who also shot the short film, effectively uses darkness and shadows to increase the suspense.
What also sets Lights Out apart from many other films in the horror genre are the stronger than normal performances. Palmer is excellent as the strong and resourceful Rebecca, a character in the great tradition of other strong female protagonists in horror films. Palmer captures her determination and strength. Bello is also very good; she looks haggard and aged here, which suits her haunted character, and she also captures her fragile mental state. Bateman is also very good as Martin, the typical scared and vulnerable child in danger from an evil entity.
Sandberg is slated to direct Annabelle 2; on the strength of his work here it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table for that sequel.