Lights Out is a 2016 supernatural horror film based on the Swedish 3-minute short horror that surfaced on Vimeo and YouTube in 2013. The idea of this film revolves around an evil spirit that can only be seen and do harm whilst in the dark, which is a simple yet petrifying idea because it reignites the fears that many of us have had and still do have: The fear of, not the dark itself, but what is in the dark. The story specifically focuses on the character of Rebecca and her childhood fears of the dark literally resurface when she begins to see the figure of ‘Diana’ hiding in the shadows again. This time, Rebecca’s younger brother is starting to see Diana too. The antagonistic spirit of the film is something that akin to a female bogeyman, I will say that here that the imagery of this character was terrifying in a good way for a horror film.
'I've been sleeping with the lights on. Every time I turn them off there's this woman, she doesn't like the light.' - Martin
The film is only roughly 1 hour and 30 minutes, rather short for any film by today's standard, but that was actually rather refreshing. I appreciated the fast-pace of the story. Yet, the short length of the film may have contributed to the lack of character development.
Maria Bello, as the mother, was one of my favourites in this cast. She managed to play the unhinged character very well. However, other cast members seemed to lack pizzazz due the lack of character depth. Rebecca, played by Teresa Palmer, wasn’t the most likeable heroine and I expected her to become more likeable, but she didn’t. She wasn't even unlikeable in a way that you love to hate someone, she was just a sub-par character. The backstory for Rebecca is a fairly simple one that doesn’t even make her invoke feelings of sympathy because she is otherwise irritating, which isn’t favourable for a main character.
Bret, performed by Alexander DiPersia, seems like every typical nice dude trying to help his girlfriend. Bret was basically one of the most one-dimensional characters in any film I’ve ever seen; even his name is a basic ol’ American name. Although, I will admit he was also one of the smartest characters and he definitely made some choices that left me and my friends shocked. These were the only moments of surprise in this entire film.
Lights Out isn’t the worst horror film I’ve seen, and if all you want is to get scared then this is a great choice. However, in the recent years’ horror films have been advancing in their originality, cleverness and surprise. Films like The Boy and Insidious are great examples of this. Lights Out has great originality in some aspects, but everything else on the checklist is lacking for me. You could probably skip the film itself, but I would 100% recommend watching the short film on YouTube, which was of the same name and had the same director: David F. Sandberg. It was nice to see the original actress, Lotta Losten, from the short make an appearance in the longer film too!
That being said, only due to the concept, the feature-film of Lights Out does what it is supposed to do as a horror film: IT SCARES YOU. The film itself isn’t necessarily super scary when you watch it, but in bed at night with the lights are off is when the fear starts to kick in. I googled when sunrise was after watching Lights Out because I didn’t feel entirely safe sleeping in the dark. So, its effective as a horror film, sure. The idea was and still is brilliant to its bare bones, however the length of a film calls for a storyline that needs to be just as good as the concept. I actually think that the original 2-minute short film was better than the feature length film, perhaps because it was stripped back and simple.
There seemed to be some annoying plot holes in the film, like the fact that ‘Diana’ sometimes moves from one place to another, despite the fact that there are lights apparent that are supposed to obstruct her. Furthermore, there were some parts of the story that visually and explanatory-wise were just straight up ridiculous… as in laughable… in a bad way. If you watch the film, you’ll know what I am talking about. As I mentioned before, horror films have become of a higher calibre for silly imageries like this to be acceptable.
Most short films are not expected or needing to be as in depth or character driven like a full-length film. Therefore, not knowing who the character was or what their motivations were in this version didn’t matter in the slightest. All that mattered was the terror. Unfortunately, the full-length film didn’t provide the charismatic characters that were needed, nor did it flesh out the story well enough with the time provided. Longer films need a journey, and the film certainly had a journey, but it wasn’t a great one. The YouTube version of Lights Out is one of my favourite short horrors; I would give that a 5/5* rating! It’s a shame that my expectations for the longer film were so high because of how good the short was.
Rating: 3 out of 5*
Age Range: 15