by Lachlan Anderson
Rated M. Starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Billy Burke. Directed by David F. Sandberg.
Horror films are fairly divisive. Generally you either love them or you hate them and for the most part I’ve not been a fan. The first horror flick I saw was A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was about 11. Rather than get scared, I laughed through most of it and I certainly didn’t lose any sleep afterwards. The new horror film Lights Out is cut from a similar cloth to Elm Street, but without quite so many ‘so schlocky it’s funny’ moments.
Lights Out, directed by David F. Sandberg, centres on Rebecca (Palmer) and her younger step-brother Martin (Bateman) who are stalked by a spirit that can only be seen in the dark. Rebecca realises that the same creature haunted her as a girl and now that Martin is being terrorised by the same shadowy figure, she must face the terrors she thought she had escaped when she left home. As the two siblings, their mother and Rebecca’s boyfriend try to uncover who the ghost, called Diana, is and her link to their family, they have to try to stay in the light and stay alive.
It’s an interesting idea for a film and one with which a director could have a lot of fun. Lights Out doesn’t rewrite the book on scary though, which is a shame given that Aussie filmmaker and modern horror heavyweight James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious) was one of the producers. In a lot of ways it ticks many of the boxes for a horror film. There’s a creepy house with a chandelier, a sequence in the basement and a chilling opening sequence in a room full of mannequins. There are plenty of scares but they’re the predictable ‘no don’t open that door’ kind of moments and don’t leave much of a lasting impression.
The filmmaker’s decision to leave out gore from the movie was a nice touch. In fact the film has very little violence at all, and most of it is either off camera or in the shadows. Instead, the film relies on creating suspense and big frights to keep audiences’ hearts racing. Diana herself is a nightmarish figure and her design is probably the scariest aspect of the film. Like the shark in Jaws, the audience doesn’t see Diana fully until the third act, which makes her all the more frightening for the first hour of the film.
Lights Out depicts a pretty straightforward battle of dark against light. We are in the midst of a similar struggle in our spiritual lives. It can often seem like the dark is winning and that the Devil has the upper hand. Just like in this film though, we can take comfort in the fact that light beats out dark. The heroes of Lights Out need to rely on torches, candles and the stability of their local power grid to stay safe, but the light we have is much more reliable. Jesus described himself as The Light, as we read in John 8:12 –
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
That’s a comforting reminder, especially when the worries and hardships of life and the temptation of sin can feel like an overwhelming darkness.
The Verdict: Lights Out does a respectable job at providing some standard frights but ultimately it feels like a wasted opportunity to do something really special. Fans of horror may get a few kicks out of watching this one, though for the squeamish amongst us, this might be one to avoid or at least watch with the lights on. 2.5/5
Lights Out releases in cinemas worldwide later this week.