From producer James Wan, of Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring fame, comes a creepy thriller from first time director David F. Sandberg.
When a film starts in an darkened mannequin factory, you know you are in for a creepy ride. That’s where Lights Out starts, and for all my dislike of modern horror films with their quiet-quiet-loud-repeat formula, it just gets better – and scarier – from there.
Factory owner Paul (Billy Burke) is on the phone with his son Martin (Gabriel Bateman). Martin can’t sleep because he is worried about his mother Sophie (Maria Bello), who is talking to herself, but Paul assures him she is getting better. After wishing his son good night, Paul is warned by the last woman leaving the factory that she “saw something in the back room”. As Paul is leaving, he sees something moving in the shadows. Sensing whatever is there cannot go into the light, Paul hurries to his office, turns the lights on full blast, and gets his trusty baseball bat. Unfortunately though, the lights get cut off, and when they come back on, Paul is left dismembered and very dead.
A short while later, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer, Juliet from Warm Bodies) is kicking her not-boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) out of bed, and the next day she is called to pick up Martin from school. She is his older sister, having moved out due to their mother’s issues with depression, and now Martin is also starting to suffer, having fallen asleep in class three times in the previous week. Rebecca takes Martin back home and after an argument with Sophie, she takes Martin back to her small apartment. However, when the mysterious shadow woman appears there as well, Rebecca realises her childhood memories where real. Having been scared by an imaginary friend Diana as a kid, Rebecca tells Martin she believes what he tells her about the creepy goings on at home.
Rebecca, Martin and Bret then realise they have to confront their mother, but what is connection between Diana and Sophie?
Director David Sandberg isn’t afraid to set up a scene and let it play out. You can see the scares coming – a look around a room will reveal a dark closet, which stays in shot throughout the scene – but that only builds the tension. Also, although the true nature of Diana is revealed over the course of the film, it’s not a matter of hiding her away. The trailer shows her shadow/silhouette in a doorway, which is at the very beginning of the film, and the way the film keeps this silhouetted entity idea going is very impressive.
Refreshingly, the characters don’t act like idiots – the father in the opening scene works out what is happening very quickly, as do others – but they are still at risk from the dangerous entity that is around them. Similarly, Sophie knows that she is troubled and putting her children at risk, but is neither totally helpless nor does she suddenly overcome all of her problems. Rebecca moved out of the family house to get away from her mother’s destructive and damaging behaviour, but the film isn’t afraid to show the effects her decision had on both Sophie and Martin. All nice touches of realism that made me enjoy the film just that little bit more.
Lights Out has more than enough of the scares that make you jump and of the scares that make you shudder a day later. That’s always a good thing. If you see this in a cinema, there is one moment that involves scratching that will have you and the rest of the audience looking around getting more and more scared. It’s also pretty cool to see British comedian Andi Osho in a small role as the child services worker. A genuinely scary, creepy film.
After this promising debut, I hope it’s not lights out for director David F Sandberg.
I’m not even sorry.
Lights Out is out in UK cinemas now.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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