L.A. Film Festival Review: LIGHTS OUT

loAbout a year ago, I received a Facebook message from a friend of mine telling me I needed to watch a short that was making its rounds on the internet.  She sent me the link and told me to watch it with the lights out.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but figured no harm no foul.  I shut my lights off and hit play.  I wish I could say that I made it through the 3 minute short in one sitting, or that I even made it through the whole thing during the second viewing.  However, it took me 3 times to finally sit down and watch LIGHTS OUT from start to finish because I was so unnerved.  The story is simple – a woman is home alone and when she turns off the lights a shadowy figure stands in the hallway only to disappear when the lights turn on. The short was effective in terrifying the viewer and soon became a viral sensation online. When news broke that they would be making this short into a feature film, with the same director doing the feature and James Wan set to produce, I was ecstatic.

For those not familiar with the 2016 movie LIGHTS OUT, it centers around a family who has been haunted by a creature who can only appear when the lights are out.  The film is directed by David F. Sandberg (who also directed the 2013 short of the same name) and stars Teresa Palmer (WARM BODIES), Gabriel Bateman (ANNABELLE), Alexander DiPersia (I AM LEGEND) and Maria Bello (A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE).  The film starts off with a bang when we are introduced to Paul (Billy Burke), the husband of Sophie (Maria Bello), at his office inside a textile mill.  As the office closes for the evening, Paul’s assistant Esther (Lotta Losten – who was the main focus in the 2013 short), goes about shutting everything down for the evening which leads us to our first introduction of the shadowy figure.  As a side note, I loved that director David Sandberg did an homage to his short by using his wife as the main focus to meeting this creature.  After Esther leaves the office, Paul is left to face the creature one-on-one which results in horrifying consequences and brings us to the main focus of the story.

I wanted to love LIGHTS OUT, I really did.  There were moments that frightened me and made me jump but unfortunately what made the 2013 short so remarkable was lost in the feature film.  The passion and simplicity that is seen throughout the short was swept under the rug for a more mainstream and studio driven film.  Though I was disappointed, I didn’t outright dislike the film.  If there is something that LIGHTS OUT did well it was bring the subject of depression into the spotlight.  The protagonist’s mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), is suffering from severe depression and we see her journey through snippets of information from her past and her unraveling in the present.  I left the theater with a different view and interpretation of what the shadowy figure was and what it meant for each of the characters that it affected.  I wish more filmmakers were able to bring mental illness to the forefront in a creative way such as what David F. Sandberg did.

Though the story lacked what I was hoping for with the feature, the acting was solid.  Teresa Palmer stood her ground as a cross between a scream queen and a final girl – she was confident and strong and didn’t ooze desperation or neediness when it came to needing help from her male counterpart Bret (Alexander DiPersia).  Maria Bello was fantastic, though she usually is in everything that she does, and I felt myself really rooting for her character in the end.  However, the breakout role goes to Gabriel Bateman, who played the son Martin.  His character was one of the main focuses of the shadowy entity and Gabriel did a fantastic job of transforming his character from that of a terrified child to one of a brave and courageous mini-adult.

All in all, LIGHTS OUT had major potential.  Though it did fall flat in some areas, those who may not be familiar with the short, will enjoy what this film has to offer.  I think what is most important to remember for those of us who are fans of the short is that the feature film is not going to be a continuous of the short.  I went into this with high expectations but I think had I lowered those and went in with more of an open mind I would have enjoyed the film more.  Those who are easily scared (raises hand) will have fun with all the jump scares as well as the creepy and dark atmosphere.  Peppered throughout the film is some humor that lightens the mood and makes the experience of viewing the movie even more enjoyable.  LIGHTS OUT had its moments where I could see the director’s voice and passion shining through and it makes me excited to see what else he has in store for the horror genre in the future.

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