By Michael Kaye
Lights Out (Review)
Looks like 2016 is shaping up to be one hell of a year for horror, especially if you're associated with James Wan. The first Conjuring was such a lightning in a bottle success that the idea of a sequel being not only as good, but possibly better than the original was just unheard of. But yeah, that happened, and now Wan is producing a feature film adaptation of the short film that exploded on YouTube couple years ago, Lights Out. This is the directorial debut for David F. Sandberg, who also directed the short.
Here's the story. When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.
Um, how do I go about explaining this film? Well, if The Babadook and The Conjuring are gourmet home cooked meals, Lights Out is the cheaper, store bought equivalent. That being said, the movie is still amazing and very effective when it comes to delivering the scares. Here are my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, what a fantastic directorial debut from David F. Sandberg! It's not exactly easy to take a 3 minute short film and flesh it out into a full feature film, and yet he seemed to pull it off just fine. Sandberg understands exactly what makes a good horror film work, and while this does feature a lot of jump scares, they are in no way gratuitous. I have no idea whether or not Sandberg has seen The Babadook, but these two films seem to be cut from the same cloth. Both films deal with a single mom and her dysfunctional family working out their problems while also dealing with a supernatural threat. In fact, take out the villain and this could almost work as a compelling drama.
The entire cast was fantastic. Maria Bello was very believable as Sophie, a single mother who's struggling to deal with the loss of her husband while she's visited by the ghost of Diana, played by Alicia Vela-Bailey. In a year that's seen its share of great child performances, you can add Gabriel Bateman as Martin to that list, who absolutely crushes the role. Teresa Palmer plays Martin's older sister Rebecca, and she is amazing. I hope 2016 is the year that she finally ascends to A-list stardom, because until recently, she hasn't really been in anything that noteworthy aside from maybe Warm Bodies. Finally, Alexander DiPersia plays Bret, Rebecca's kinda-sorta boyfriend??? Well, at least he's not an asshole, as he's very supportive and will stick around to help the family fight off Diana.
James Wan is, without a doubt, an awesome producer. I'm well aware of the possibility that the only reason his name is attached to this film is to sell the movie, but Wan's not like most producers. You can tell how passionate he is about this director because he's already attached him to Annabelle 2, a sequel to a movie I didn't really care about, but now I feel inclined to give it a chance thanks to this movie. In fact, quick aside, I'm seeing a pattern with a handful of really talented writers and directors attaching themselves to major horror franchises. Adam Wingard just smuggled a sequel to Blair Witch at San Diego Comic Con disguised as "The Woods," Mike Flanagan is helming the prequel film Ouija: Origin of Evil, and the Spierig Brothers are relaunching the Saw franchise with Saw Legacy. It's a great time to be a horror fan for sure!
I have two very minor nitpicks that stop this movie from being perfect.
One of them is the runtime. I know, I know, it's a miracle that Sandberg was able to flesh his short film out as much as possible, but at barely 90 minutes, I was left wanting more. We could have spent a touch more time getting to know the characters, perhaps one or two minutes flashing back to the mental hospital where Sophie and Diana first met.
The other problem I had was Diana's reveal. Once we finally get a good look at the ghost, she's not all that intimidating. I don't know whether she was wearing prosthetics or if she was a completely CGI character, but I would have preferred if we never got to see her face.
Lights Out was a fantastic horror film, as well as a great feature film debut for David F. Sandberg. Aside from a few minor hiccups, I thought everything else about it was amazing, from the cast to the people behind the camera. It's been a great year for horror so far, and I really can't wait to see what's coming next!
Now I want to hear from you guys! Have you seen Lights Out yet, and if so what did you think? Also, which one of the upcoming horror sequels that I mentioned are you looking forward to the most? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where I board the USS Enterprise and celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest sci-fi franchises of all time in Star Trek Beyond!