Review by Ben Holliday/@bholliday
Lights Out is certainly one of the pleasant surprises of an otherwise dreary summer. Director David F. Sandberg makes his feature film debut after submitting a short film of the same name and premise at a film festival in 2014. Despite not winning the competition, Sandberg was contacted by many big Hollywood names hence why you’ll see James Wan’s name plastered across the marketing. Despite doubts from Wan that Sandberg could extend the short into a full length run time, Lights Out successfully expands on the suspenseful and terrifying 3 minute short.
This lean horror follows the trials and tribulations of Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) and her family, plagued for over a decade by a nefarious and deadly entity that goes by the name of Diana. After haunting her as a child from the shadows, Diana has now seemingly set her sights on Rebecca’s younger brother Martin, played solidly by Gabriel Bateman – this kid has a future. The family drama elevates what would otherwise be a competent scarefest, providing us with an emotional anchor to the deadly goings on and the cast are solid across the board with Rebecca’s boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) landing pitch perfect punch lines throughout. Rounding out the cast is Maria Bello, who expertly takes on the role of the tormented mother at the centre of the families dogged past.
Now matter how competent it is, let’s not pretend we all turned up for the familial drama – Lights Out was made to scare and I’d argue it does for the bedroom lamp, what Paranormal Activity did for the home prior to the infinite glut of cash-in sequels.
As the name suggest, Lights Out forces Sandberg and Director of Photography Marc Spicer to intelligently set up scenes in a unique manner, creating a sense of foreboding and dread for both the audiences and the characters throughout the 80 minute run time. From bedside lamps to dying candles, the crew expertly utilise ambient lighting, giving the villain an ominous presence whether in frame or not. The black-light finale in particular is riveting and fills the screen with an ominous purple low – something refreshingly different from the usual stream of cheap, dark looking horror movies. Practical effects are used brilliantly in conjunction with inventive lighting and evocative sound design, making the twisted Diana a memorable and haunting villain and elevating what could possibly become a forgettable trip to the cinema.
Although it suffers from clichéd and awkward dialogue at times, it’s rare to find a horror film with such attention to craft and as a result, Lights Out is a great way to spend a little over an hour in front of the big screen. With perfectly timed jump scares and an air of dread throughout, Lights Out is an excellent addition to the James Wan produced horror renaissance.
Just remember to keep that wind up torch at the ready.
Lights Out is released in cinemas August 19th