Eerie setting. Faulty lighting. Character walks uncommonly slow. Don’t look behind that door. Music cuts out. Tension at its peak. Relief.
LOUD NOISE AND SCARY THING APPEARS.
When all else fails, the classic jumpscare is always there for horror films to fall back on.
As such, it’s become a completely predictable tactic for the genre. But every once in a while a film comes along that can subvert the trope and use it in a way that feels fresh and new.
Lights Out isn’t that film. By a long shot.
Instead, Warner Bros.’ next horror hit hopeful is reliant on nothing but the same basic scare repeated over and over.
It may be a refreshingly lean picture in a season of bloat, but with its flat characters, limited range of frights and abscess of atmosphere, Lights Out feels like a shadow of what it could be.
Produced by The Conjuring‘s James Wan, Lights Out is the story of a family (Teresa Palmer as older sister Rebecca and Gabriel Bateman as younger brother Martin) terrorized by a dangerous phantasm that lurks in the shadows and has a mysterious connection to the pair’s mother (Maria Bello).
That idea alone shows so much potential. Add in that the film is only 81 minutes and it’s not unreasonable to expect an efficient experience in terror.
But even with a treasure trove of possibilities at its disposal, Lights Out is made with no more ambition than as to repeat the same tired jolt throughout.
Rather than a smart, developed horror film befitting of Wan’s name (the film is directed by relative newcomer David F. Sandberg, adapted from his 2013 short film of the same name), the filmmakers shoot low, going for the broadest appeal possible with the least possible tone.
It’s cheap thrills and the type of popcorn flick where audiences interact with it rather than watch it — they won’t miss anything of importance, after all.
Which becomes even more frustrating because Lights Out does show flashes of some legitimately good things the movie needed more of.
The backstory of the spectre, Diana, might as well have been made by another team, considering how creepy it was in comparison to the rest of the movie.
Some real creativity was shown in the finale in various ways to produce light when it was needed to save someone’s backside.
Props as well to the filmmakers for at least attempting to craft serious drama surrounding mental illness and the hardships it causes families. Again, attempted.
But all too often it’s redeeming parts are lost by going back to that same plain jumpscare we’ve seen in countless other movies (in more creative and effecting ways) and so many times in this one.
Putting Wan’s name in all the promotional materials may seem like a good idea on paper but it also reveals the most glaring difference between the filmmakers: Wan’s scares work because he puts effort into the characters.
The characters in Lights Out invoke only apathy, as the movie is way too preoccupied with cheap scares to worry about interesting personalities.
Hanging around with these people at the end of the second act, a dramatic and pacing dead-zone before the finale, somehow killed the momentum in an already short film.
Less crucial but also less consistent are the supposed “rules” of the film. Lights Out establishes early on that Diana will getcha in the shadows but you’re safe in the light. However, she also has the ability to turn the lights out … except when she doesn’t (or won’t). Candle light also isn’t strong enough to repel her … except when it is.
But who has time for attention to detail like that when it’s been 10 minutes since the scary thing last jumped out?
This is a movie that plays to general audiences and it succeeds as just that. It’s short, you don’t have to get too invested and there are plenty of shocks that will cause your girlfriend/boyfriend to scream and grab your arm.
If that’s enough for you, there’s enjoyment to be had.
If you crave a robust horror film that’s more than just a one-trick pony, Lights Out is not for you. Don’t be left in the dark.