Movie Review: James Wan’s Lights Out

Simon Rother

Lights Out PosterMany us were very afraid of the dark as kids, and some of us still are. With “Lights Out” being presented in a special advanced screening at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, some of us may begin to be anxious within the shadows.

Rebecca (Teresa Palmer; “Warm Bodies”; “I Am Number Four”) has moved away from her mother’s home a long time ago; her mother suffering from depression, severely medicated, and often very odd to be around. Her younger half-brother Martin (young Gabriel Bateman; “Annabelle”) still lives with their mom, however. He begins to fall asleep at school and Rebecca goes over to check on his home status. He claims to be terrified of falling asleep in the dark at home and that their mother is speaking to someone, or something, in the obscurity of their home. That is when Becca begins to experience what he is going through: something is after them, only present where there is absence of light, and it wants to drag them into the cold, unforgiving darkness.

First of all, it’s a shame when a movie attempts to get you attached to a young boy or girl and there is nothing that hooks your heart right in. Luckily, that’s not the case here. Gabriel Bateman, who portrays Rebecca’s younger brother, is fantastic in his performance: very charming at certain moments, and seeming very terrified at others, as he should. At no moment throughout the film did I tell myself that his acting seemed forced, cheesy, or horrible. Teresa Palmer also interprets the protagonist’s role nicely, portraying a young woman who is hesitant to commit to a relationship, having severed one with her own mother. Even the bizarre and distressed matriarch of the family, played by Maria Bello (“A History of Violence”; “Secret Window”) does a decent job.

For those who may still not know, “Lights Out” was originally a very successful and immensely effective short film from 2013 with the same title. This motion picture was actually directed by David F. Sandberg, the original writer and director of the short film. It’s always nice to see when a short film spawns into a big feature film, going as far as having it distributed across mainstream cinemas. Doesn’t happen very often.

What I liked about “Lights Out” is that there is rarely a dull moment: from beginning to end, the menacing spectre makes its presence felt and has you feeling uncomfortable as soon as lights begin to buzz and flicker. There are some effective scenes that bring up the creepiness level when the antagonist runs full speed, creating a sense of sheer panic. The backstory of this spirit is also interesting to discover, unravelling the details as to why the disturbed mother is communicating with it, or attempting to, anyway.

The aspect of “Lights Out” that had me frowning the most was that 75% of the film relies mainly on “sound scare” to have you jump out of your seat. Sure, some scenes are visually eerie, but the majority of the film’s jump scares are from cranking the volume WAY high on a scream or sound effect that was loud enough or high pitched enough to begin with. I enjoy it once in a while in films, but to have the bulk of the motion picture depend on this is disappointing, in my view. As I mentioned, some of the spectre’s movements and actions were creepy, but nothing that visually succeeded in sticking in my mind like “The Conjuring” or “The Exorcist” did, if I had to compare.

Without giving anything away, some details of the spirit’s backstory remain blurry and suspicious to me. In addition to this, the film ends in a rather abrupt fashion, without being a horrible ending, either.

All in all, “Lights Out” is a decent supernatural movie that deserves a watch, despite being rather on the short side (81 minutes), as I attribute 3.5 stars out of 5 to it.


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