Lights Out. It's just under three minutes long, but is a super effective little short film. I have it linked for you right there if you haven't seen it. Basically there's a mysterious figure that shows up when the lights get turned off, but disappears when the lights get turned on. When the lady in the short film keeps turning the light on and off, this creepy figure gets closer and closer. This feeds off people's fear of the dark, making it unsettling walking through your house at night when the lights are off. This is why it's so effective. It made its rounds on the internet and social media and got popular enough for it to be adapted into a feature-length film which was just released this past weekend. The advertising has smartly been pushing producer James Wan, who is a horror master, but the cool thing is that this movie is written and directed by David Sandberg, who is the man who wrote and directed the original short. Now he gets to expand his little story from three minutes to 80 minutes. This was a risky venture because some short films are better as short films as opposed to feature-length films. But Lights Out is an example that works well as both. It's a good short film and a good feature-length film.
As with the short film, Lights Out is about a mysterious, demonic woman figure that shows up when the lights are off and disappears when the lights get turned on. But it's also a whole lot more than that. First off, yes this mysterious demon lady is deadly. If you let her get too close without shining a light on her or turning the light on, she will grab you and hurt you. I'm not going to spoil if she actually kills anyone or not, but that's a definite possibility. Demon lady aside, the core of this movie is actually about a family. Yes, it has a plot! And a surprisingly good one with great characters. We have a mom who's a bit crazy, a young boy who lives with his crazy mom, an older sister who is grown up and living on her own, and a boyfriend to that sister. Mom spent a lot of time in a mental hospital when she was younger and is not doing well, so it's not a good situation for young boy. Older sister lives a bit of a sketchy life, but she sees this issue and is trying to get young boy to live with her instead of mother. The sister's boyfriend, who is NOT useless, plays the voice of reason in all this as he's trying to talk a bit of sense into his girl when she does things on a whim without thinking them through. On top of all this is the demon lady showing up and messing with their lives even more.
All these main actors need to be mentioned by name here because they all did a great job. Our most recognizable name is Teresa Palmer as the older sister. She's had a handful of misses recently, so it's good to see her finally catch a break by being in a good movie again. Previously she has been most known for her role in Warm Bodies in 2013 as well as I Am Number Four and The Sorcerer's Apprentice before that. I've liked her in every movie I've seen her in and this movie is no different. She does a good job. Our young boy is played a kid named Gabriel Bateman. He's played a handful of small roles from movies and TV shows I have not seen, most notably being Annabelle. A good child actor can be hard to come by, but this kid holds his own and does a job. The boyfriend in the movie is played by Alexander DiPersia. Most impressive with him is that usually the boyfriend/girlfriend is the throwaway character destined to die and usually it's a very unemotional death used to scare our main character. Not the case here. He has a lot of charm and charisma and, as I said before, is the voice of reason. I appreciated that. Last but not least, the best individual performance of the movie came with our crazy mother played by Maria Bello. She comes nowhere near the performance of the crazy mother in The Babadook, but she does crazy decently well.
Now for the horror aspect of this movie. Story and characters are fantastic and I definitely appreciate that they are given attention in this movie. But if we're a horror movie, the most important part is the horror, right? Unfortunately this is a bit of a mixed bag for me. Mixed in with the great plot and interesting characters is a whole slew of horror cliches. This demon lady is honestly creepy and I'll get more into that in a second, but there are so many jump scares in this movie. I was disappointed that a movie with a concept so intriguing relied so heavily on jump scares. Jump scares in a movie aren't inherently bad. Don't get me wrong. But I appreciate a horror movie where jump scares aren't the focus. My favorite horror movies are the ones that are creepy and unsettling without having a ton of jump scares, but that's not what this movie is. It's jump scare after jump scare after jump scare. It got a bit old. The other thing is that they tried to give this demon lady a backstory, but they did a pretty cruddy job of it. If you're going to explain the villain, make sure its a well-written villain. I won't dive into spoilers, but this is a pretty poorly written villain and that made the second half of the movie a lot less scary. It would've been better if they just left that demon lady a mystery.
No, this isn't the best horror movie of the year. But it's decently effective. I was creeped out by the demon lady and I loved our storyline and characters. It was refreshing to see a horror movie take time to flesh out a story and characters because that doesn't happen super often in horror. Sure, I would've appreciated it if the movie were a psychological horror instead of a supernatural horror. I think they shouldn't have tried to explain this demon lady and I also think they shouldn't have relied so heavily on jump scares. But that's just a personal preference. It's worth noting that I was in a sold-out showing and almost everyone else there was jumping, yelling, screaming, and panicking at every little thing that happened and several rounds of applause broke out when a character did something good. They were all so into the movie that it was actually rather distracting and I found myself laughing at how scared everyone got and kinda wished that I was watching the movie in an empty theater. But at the same time, it showed me that despite my personal opinions, if horror movies make you jump easily, this one just will get under your skin fast. But back to my personal opinion, compared to other horror movies this year, this doesn't shine a candle to The Witch, but it's better than The Conjuring 2 and about on-par with The Shallows. Thus I will give Lights Out an 8/10.