At CineFiles, we like to stay current. We try our very best to see the big new releases right as they come out, so that we can get reviews out to you lovely readers in a timely manner. This task is not always easy, especially given that our choice of pronoun can be deceiving in terms of number agreement.
So, yeah, we didn’t see Lights Out last Summer. What’s it to you?
All joking aside, Lights Out is the number one genre movie that I regret not seeing last year. As such, I’m back almost a year later to pick up the slack. I watched Lights Out (thanks, Cinemax), so let’s talk about it.
Lights Out is the feature length film from David F. Sandberg adapted from the short film by David F. Sandberg. The short film is an intriguing game of suspense played off of an almost childishly simple premise. There is a presence. When the lights are on, it is nowhere to be found. When the lights are off, it can move freely.
Following the death of his father and the mental breakdown of his mother (Maria Bello), young Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is taken in by his big sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer). Only, their mother’s psychosis might not be as much in her head as they think.
Lights Out begins with a cold open reminiscent of the short film. It sets up the premise and the stakes, while also tying in to the overarching plot. It’s an effective opening sequence.
Following the first few horror set pieces, the action of this film becomes repetitive. The film does not have a lot to go on beyond its premise. There is an intriguing arc about the safety of Martin, but what else is added into the plot for the sake of a feature length runtime doesn’t hold up.
As a result, the first half hour of this film flies by. Given the already short runtime of the film, this is a good sign for pacing. Once the film hits that 30 minute mark and starts getting into backstory, however, the film begins to suffer.
In a certain light (pun kind of intended, not going to lie), the film makes a farce of itself in this backstory. You can turn your brain off to it and the film will be better for it, but the origin of this seemingly supernatural entity is too silly to ignore. The Diana “character” is something that would have served the film better as an unexplained third party.
Not to mention that the varying degree by which the shadow creature can control her environment is a means of plot convenience.
Diana is not the only character in the film that detracts from suspense. The mother character, too, is problematic at her most unstable. It seems the longer a scene with the mother goes on the farther the characterization slips away from a realistic portrayal of mental illness.
At its bookends, Lights Out has some effectively tense set pieces. But the middle drags with stagnant scenes and burdening backstory. What works perfectly for the brevity of a five minute short film is not enough to carry the narrative of a feature. The film benefits from a well-developed child character and above average acting performances, but it suffers when it endeavors to convince us to take it seriously.
Lights Out: C
If you want to survive a horror movie premise like Lights Out, all you really need is some backup light bulbs and a good relationship with your electrician. The more you know.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)