On David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out (2016)

by Kayann Mitchell

With Lights Out  David F. Sandberg brings his creepy acclaimed 3 minute horror short (from 2013) to the big screen as his feature film debut. Could it be as creepy as the original?

Opening in a clothing factory we meet Paul (Billy Burke) closing up shop for the night when one of his workers spies something creepy in the back room of the factory. Spooked, she warns Paul to be careful when he’s leaving. A warning he doesn’t heed, to tragic results.

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Not soon after we meet Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and Sophie (Maria Bello), Paul’s wife and young son who seem to be having a tough go of things since his untimely death. Martin seems exhausted and terrified and Sophie is very clearly preoccupied by someone or something other than her son. When Martin falls asleep in class and Sophie can’t be reached his school gets in touch with his estranged older sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who upon seeing the state Sophie is in, takes Martin home with her. Once home with his sister, Martin reveals the presence of Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) in his mother’s life much to Rebecca’s dismay. But is Diana’s presence as sinister as it seems? Or is this just a mother and son in the throes of grief?

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Lights Out wastes no time getting to the creepy, you meet the big bad right at the outset so that leaves a lot of story to tell rather than the building of tension as we slowly discover what plagues this family. Instead since we see it we are left wondering why? Why are Sophie and by extension Martin and Rebecca being tormented? And that’s where the mental illness tropes come into play. Namely Sophie’s apparent lifetime depression. The makers of this film use mental illness as a crutch and like something that can be brought about and cured with the simple taking or not taking of a pill, which couldn’t be further from the truth. And that for me is where the movie with an extremely innovative premise falls under the weight of its story. I eye rolled, I gagged, and I was ultimately underwhelmed. But if you live for jump scares this could be the film for you.

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