Lights Out (2016) Film Review from the 22nd Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, a movie directed by David F. Sandberg, starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke, and Maria Bello.
Pick five random horror movies that were made in the past ten years or so. Think about how often they tried to scare you, and then think about how often they succeeded at doing so. Now that you’ve thought about it, I would wager that you concluded that not only did they rarely succeed in actually scaring you, but that the few times they did, it was because they resorted to such banalities as jump scares. Very rarely have we seen the kind of film that eschews such lazy devices for a clever, genuinely-disturbing idea that it takes time to develop and fill audience members with a sense of unbearable dread and powerless voyeurism. Thanks to recent developments in the genre, however, we are starting to see more movies like this, with the most recent and most potent example being David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out.
The premise is the stuff of nightmares: a malevolent entity stalks it’s victims from the safety of the dark before viciously murdering them the moment the lights go off. The concept is terrifying enough, but the way it is realized makes it even more loathsome. With only it’s silhouette visible to anyone unfortunate enough to encounter it, the creature, simply named “Diana” (Alicia Vela-Bailey), often makes it’s presence known by scratching floorboards and making thumping noises around whichever home it has chosen to blight. In essence, it is the boogeyman children live in terror of before they grow up, but after seeing Diana in action, even the most courageous adults will catch themselves checking under the bed and in the closet before they sleep.
Making the horror all the more palpable is the connection that bonds Diana with the protagonists: it’s relationship with their mother, the clinically-depressed Sophie (Bello). When Martin wakes up one night, he sees his mother talking to something in her closet. What it is, he can’t tell, but he knows that it’s no good. Surprised by him, she sends him back to bed, telling him that only grown-ups should be awake this late. He is all too happy to heed her instructions, locking his door and staring in fright at it as he hears that same something make it’s way across the hall and try to open it. This is another childhood fear that the movie brilliantly preys on: the fear that our parents will abandon us for someone – or even worse, something – else.
As Martin’s step-sister Rebecca (Palmer) takes him with her for his own protection against the doubts of her boyfriend (DiPersia) and an official from Martin’s school (Andi Osho), she is forced to revisit her childhood memories of Diana and learn why it has plagued them for so long. Delving into her mother’s past, she uncovers a tragic secret that makes her realize that not only is Sophie the only one who has the power to stop Diana, but that they must all be there for her if she is to save them from this ungodly scourge.
The sensitive among us may very well have to pass, but if you’re not afraid of the dark – or at least can bear to sleep with the lights on – make sure to see Lights Out for yourself.
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