Now Playing: Lights Out (2016)

I’ll be perfectly honest here – I had my doubts about Lights Out. Like everyone else, I loved David F. Sandberg’s award-winning 2013 short film about a shadowy monster that cannot be seen (or harm you) as long as the lights are on. Like everyone else, I was happy to hear that Sandberg had been given the chance to bring his chilling vision to the big screen. But I wondered if he would be able to sustain the concept throughout the duration of a feature-length film. I feared that the film would be repetitive, too gimmicky, and lack real meat.

I was wrong.

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Not only does the film introduce new wrinkles that keep the scenes with the monster fresh and exciting, but it also introduces a conceit that adds new complex and affecting layers to the story. In this collaboration between Sandberg and screenwriter Eric Heisserer (responsible for the remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) and The Thing (2011)), the monster becomes an allegory for major depressive disorder and its effects on both the sufferer and their loved ones.

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It’s a smart move and one that serves the film very well. In lesser hands, Lights Out could easily have been a gimmicky, run-of-the-mill monster movie. Instead, it is an effective and affecting exploration of the lasting outcomes of severe mental illness within familial relationships. Maria Bello turns in an incredible performance as Sophie, the emotionally fragile and disturbed mother of young Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and estranged older daughter Rebecca (Teresa Palmer). The scenes in which the family communicates (or fails to) are heartbreakingly believable. As someone who regularly deals with depression, I found that Sophie’s relationship to her personal monster and the isolation it imposes upon her rings true. While the ending could be considered by some problematic in terms within the context of the metaphor, I thought it was brilliant and spoke to the desperation and nihilism that depression can engender in its subjects.

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In terms of the monster design, the feature film builds upon and exceeds the creepiness of the short film. Small touches, like unexpected growth spurts and a startling reveal late in the film really amp up the creep factor. While jump scares abound, they weren’t overly cheap – there were no gotcha, it-was-actually-just-a-cat clichés that I can recall.

Like the short film that birthed it, Lights Out is a solid, innovative, and enjoyable piece of work that gave me a moment of sheepish fear in a dark hallway later that night.

Score: 7 out of 10 flickering light bulbs.

Bonus points:

  • I loved the cameo by Swedish actress Lotta Losten, Sandberg’s wife and star of the original short. I hope to see more of her work in the future, as well as her fabulous rose-gold shoes.
  • Kristin M. Burke was the costume designer for this film. Kristin, if you’re reading this, call me. I’m desperately in love with Teresa Palmer’s wardrobe and would love to personally hire you.
  • After seeing this film, the inclusion of both a handheld blacklight and an LED flashlight in the promotional packages seems especially amusing to me. Well done, WB.
  • I appreciated the nod to diversity in casting – the film features two women of colour, one who appears multiple times.
  • I saw this movie with a friend, and he visibly jumped out of his seat multiple times throughout the film. If you love jump scares, then I would take this to be a great sign that you’ll enjoy Lights Out.
  • The film includes some subtle character touches around issues of abandonment and intimacy that I really liked.

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