Lights Out is the first feature length film from Director David F. Sanberg (but he is now also currently filming Annabelle 2, the sequel from a spin off of The Conjuring series.) The film has been adapted out of one of Sandberg’s short films (by the same title) that went viral. Less than 3 minutes long, the short Lights Out (2013) is, clean, efficient and delivers a tight concise tension scare with I nice jump fright to finish.
Getting on to the feature… the plot is a very standard one. Family unit threatened by the forces of a paranormal presence in the form of an evil spirit from the matriarchs troubled past. Sophie (Maria Bello,) is the mother of half siblings Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and Rebecca (Teresa Palmer,) battling with her personal demons, which manifest in the form of a ghoul that can only be seen when the lights are out. Sophia and Rebecca’s estranged mother-and-daughter relationship is strained yet more when Rebecca’s hardcore, bad-girl, lifestyle is suddenly interrupted by having to take on the care of her younger brother. With the help of her servile, fawning, boyfriend Bret, Rebecca must delve into the puzzle of her mother’s troubled childhood in order to rid their lives of terror.
Maybe when you heard that this film had the name James Wan on the production credits (after picking up Sanberg’s original, then going on to support this feature length venture) you hoped that hints of Wan’s creep skills might’ve washed off on Sanberg’s film. But if you hoped that, you were wrong. What you will find is a bland, and poor, replication of Wan’s technical skill, and all-round style. The film might have a half decent premise, and Sanberg does show some grasp of using the trademark devices of a psychological horror – perversion of the familiar/comfortable, subversion of audience expectation, intermingling of suspense and shock tactics – but these are precisely that: cliché, trademark gags. Lights Out is yet another washed-out, formulaic, mainstream horror flick.
But in the midst of crappy, repetitive, scare sequences there are rare moments that augur to Sanberg’s unpolished talent as a horror director, and that potentially glimpse at a promising future in the genre. A flashing crimson neon sign provides a suspense scare; a brief moment with the same atmosphere and neat, impactful terror delivery, as the short.
The screenplay from Eric Heissérer is over-hashed, and poorly put together. A number of massive plot strands are left without even an attempt at resolution (why does nobody give a fuck when Martin’s dad gets torn apart? Why is that not even considered as evidence that there’s a fucking scary darkness demon trying to ruin everyone’s lives?) And Bret’s sappy, soft-as-shit, boyfriend dialogue induces squirms that are probably more terrifying than the horror itself.
Overall it’s a 2/5 stars.