Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: Lights Out

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
As moviegoers, I'm sure we've all done this at some point: as you watch a film, you think to yourself how you would behave differently from the characters on the screen, shaking your head at their obtuse behavior.

"Lights Out" is such a film. It's a low budget horror movie with a few genuine scares, a creepy villain, a fair amount of silliness and characters who continually do the stupidest thing imaginable. Most of these characters figure out early on that Diana, the scary woman with long claws that lurks in the shadows, can only kill you in the darkness and cannot come into the light. And yet, nearly every character in this film wanders alone into dark rooms with this knowledge in mind.

The movie, which has been expanded into a feature by director David Sandberg from his 2013 short film of the same name, opens with an especially eerie sequence, during which a man working at a factory that has an abundance of creepy mannequins and poorly lit rooms - seriously, what is this guy's job? - discovers that he is not alone and in short order finds himself attempting to outrun Diana to no avail.

We then meet the guy's family - a young boy named Martin (Gabriel Bateman), who is increasingly disturbed by his mother's (Maria Bello) odd behavior, which involves talking to a shadowy figure - you guessed it - in the dark rooms of their house. Martin turns to his estranged sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who'd fled years before due to her mom's unsettling manner, and her good natured boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) for help.

I won't divulge why Diana is tormenting this particular family, but suffice it to say that the concept is both intriguing (in terms of setup) and ludicrous (in terms of how Diana came to her present state of being). There's also an unintentionally hilarious sequence during which Rebecca finds a doctor's file on both her mother and Diana that just happens to have an audio recording of a doctor's session with Diana from years before that conveniently fills us in on everything we need to know.

And then, as I've mentioned, there are the countless scenes of people venturing into dark spaces, long after they've realized that the shadows are Diana's safe spaces. So, we have Rebecca wandering into dark rooms and a dark basement, characters sleeping by themselves in rooms that are not properly lit, people opening up dark closets where they hear creaking or scratching noises, etc. Therefore, scenes that should be frightening end up being maddening due to the characters' goofy behavior.

"Lights Out" has a few good scares and also, unfortunately, more than a few cheap jump scares - you know, when the camera pans away to an empty space, pans back to a character and then pans back again to have something jump up in your face. The cast is mostly fine, especially Palmer, who gives her slightly underwritten character a bit of gravitas, and Diana is a pretty decent horror movie villain. But while the film is better than a majority of studio-released horror movies - indies, such as the brilliant "It Follows" or the unsettling "The Witch" are where it's at these days - it's still a fairly formulaic addition to the genre.

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