Movie Review: ‘Lights Out’


Lights Out (2016)

Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello

Directed by

David F. Sandberg

Written by

Eric Heisserer, David F. Sandberg

Other Info

Fantasy, Horror
Rated PG-13
1h 21min

4 Stars (4 / 5)
Horror movies are built on scares. Some are hugely successful because they get the scares just right. I think of A Nightmare on Elm Street, where the scares centered on dreams and finger knives. I also think of Halloween where the scare is in the immortality of the killer. For as many successful films that have come down the pike, there have been effective scares coming from powerful ideas. Usually, as it is in the examples I just mentioned, the formula is simple, based on some well-chosen banal and universal human fear like sharks for example.

Lights Out the short film got its start through trial run showings on Youtube via a 3 minute short of the same name. David Sandberg and his wife made the short and then it went viral. Soon after that, Sandberg was in talks with mega horror director/producer James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring …). Sandberg got a chance to bait a big screen audience and that audience bit.

While the short film has a rustic, bare bones plot, the film’s is quite extensive. IMDB gives this synopsis:

When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.

*The rest of this review may contain spoilers

lightsout_4Maria Bello, Martin’s mother Sophie in the film, does a great job and I think her performance deserves more press than it’s getting. I loved her in Payback with Mel Gibson and it was great seeing her on the screen doing so well once again. Her role is the crux of the story and while we aren’t supposed to understand the way she is until about the last 1/8th of the film, she lays the foundation in a stellar way. We could talk about so many psychological issues at play here. I think people interested in that topic could sit and chat for hours over coffee on that aspect alone. I love it when horror movies have a psychological component.

There is also a supernatural possibility here. Is it in their heads or is there a ghost  here? Apparently, this thing that disappears in the light has limbs and so it might lightsout_2be human. The character that brings clarity to the creature is Rebecca, Teresa Palmer. She reads a box of files that were in her mother’s storage. I can relate with this because I remember finding some of my parents things in the garage from time to time and revelling in seeing them so young. Once I even found a letter my dad had written to the draft board. That’s a powerful find when you’re a kid. It’s that much more powerful to Rebecca,Teresa Palmer, when she finds it and does some poking around. At that point she is able to share her opinions about her mom and this other “person” called Diana.

The little brother Martin, Gabriel Bateman, also does a great acting job. I especially liked the script written for his character. He really made me feel scared and at the same time, why he stays in a scary situation: he truly loves his lightsout_1mother. In the end, this film becomes a story of redemption of the relationship between mother and daughter. Rebecca is the star of the show here. She has clearly decided she wants no more of her mother out of a survival instinct and I respect that. At the same time, you wonder how she could have run out on her little brother. The creature is jealous for Sophie’s attention and she will wreak havoc on anyone who threatens that. Rebecca got out and left the brother behind. In the film, her crosswords challenge is whether to step in or continue with her life apart from her mother and brother.

Sandberg’s wife, Lotta Losten, who stars in the short film also plays a small role in the beginning of the feature movie.

Apart from a complicated plot that I take points away for, there is a simple string of scares based on the creature and lights going off and on/ This is ingenious and it really works to scare. I even thought that the complicated plot sometimes got in the way of the simple scares that you can get a taste of for free on Youtube in the Lights Out Short Film. An interesting trivia is that Sandberg’s wife who stars in the short film plays a small role in the beginning of the film, warning Sophie’s husband there is something in the hallway. Fittingly this is derived from the short where some sort of creature is in the hallway coming closer with each click of the light.

It’s rare when a small successful short film hits big as a feature film. Lights Out has done it here. James Wan made the right choice and I don’t think he needs me to tell him because he has already signed Sandberg to direct Annabelle 2. This is one of the coolest success stories in film. Sandberg has said that the short film cost “zero dollars” to make. He traveled with that idea to a 5 million dollar feature horror film and it has been filled with audiences since its opening. I wasn’t sure if I would like it due to a few bad reviews I saw but on the whole, the critics love this film referring it to a Summer sleeper hit. I’ll make the obvious point of how this should encourage new filmmakers. Perhaps more will produce shorts at minimal cost. This will in theory increase to number of great ideas that make it to the theaters. This thriller/horror is one that will be in the discussion of horror for decades, maybe even indefinitely. I wonder if Sandberg ever marvels at how far that one idea has come since the night he clicked “upload” on Youtube. For horror/thriller fans, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. It was a lot of fun.

Thanks for reading this review. You may want to read my other review of Lights Out Short Film.

Short Film Review: ‘Lights Out (2013)’


Lights Out (2013)

Lotta Losten

Directed by

David Sandberg

Written by

David Sandberg

Other Info

Short, Horror

4 Stars (4 / 5)
The film directing artistry of newcomer David F. Sandberg appeared long before his big screen debut: Lights Out. A three-minute limit and a terrifying idea produced his short film of the same name. After hitting the internet, it went viral and caught the attention of horror fans and movie makers all over the world. The most important viewer proved to be James Wan, creator of Saw, Insidious, and the Conjuring.

Wan eventually met with Sandberg going on to produce ‘Lights Out’ in its big screen version. Sandberg’s short film won the prestigious horror award “Who’s There.” Since then, millions already have been scared by the full length horror/thriller film. Countless more will be petrified at a later date on DVD and other media. Sandberg has gone straight to the top with his film. Furthermore, Wan has slated Sandberg to direct Annabelle 2. Now that’s what I call a short film with a bullet!

The short is quite different as far as the story goes in each. The film, as one would imagine, has a complicated interplay between characters. Of course, the short has only one character. Well, let’s just say one character we know of. A woman who is nameless but played by Sandberg’s wife in real life Lotta Losten. They were working in a home for mentally challenged adults all day and when they got home they would make films at home for fun. Sandberg states the film cost “zero dollars” to make. One night when Lotta got off work, they made the short ‘Lights Out.’ He submitted it to the horror site Bloody Disgusting and in no time the video went viral.

Although the two films are similar and share the same name, they are quite different. What they share is this technique of turning a light off and seeing a figure then turning a light off and seeing it disappear. This build incredible suspense and I love banal effect of the short film just as much as the 5 million dollar production version. I’ve placed the short below for your viewing. I think it’s inspiring that a young man and his wife could develop a simple thought at home in a 3 minute short film and have it take off in a couple of years to be a Summer blockbuster. I’ve just seen the full-length version and look forward to reviewing it here in the near future so stay tuned. Until then, here is the short film, I hope you enjoy!

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: ‘Your Days of Yore and What You’re Not’

The Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “your/you’re/yore.” Use one, use them all, but whatever you do, enjoy!

Here’s my #socs entry for today:

Days of yore hold such mysticism. The way they used to do it always seems more concrete, more tested. We forgot however that thinkers in history did not have the technology and advantages we have. So why do we trust old technologies like buildings and roads so much. We vote to pay for roads, for example, that are built in those same technologies of yore.

Then I have to acknowledge such huge accomplishments of the past as the men on the moon. Was their now defunct technology a total mistake? That happened with the technology of a computer only as sophisticated as a basic calculator. If you can ever watch Apollo 18 you’ll see how people working together in collaboration is the true technology that got people to the moon. It’s a great film though not about the famous successful flight.

Care to try your hand at #socs? Read below:

Here are the rules:

1. Your post must be stream of consciousness writing, meaning no editing, (typos can be fixed) and minimal planning on what you’re going to write.

2. Your post can be as long or as short as you want it to be. One sentence – one thousand words. Fact, fiction, poetry – it doesn’t matter. Just let the words carry you along until you’re ready to stop.

3. There will be a prompt every week. I will post the prompt here on my blog on Friday, along with a reminder for you to join in. The prompt will be one random thing, but it will not be a subject. For instance, I will not say “Write about dogs”; the prompt will be more like, “Make your first sentence a question,” “Begin with the word ‘The’,” or simply a single word to get your started.

4. Ping back! It’s important, so that I and other people can come and read your post! For example, in your post you can write “This post is part of SoCS:” and then copy and paste the URL found in your address bar at the top of this post into yours.  Your link will show up in my comments for everyone to see. The most recent pingbacks will be found at the top. NOTE: Pingbacks only work from WordPress sites. If you’re self-hosted or are participating from another host, such as Blogger, please leave a link to your post in the comments below.

5. Read at least one other person’s blog who has linked back their post. Even better, read everyone’s! If you’re the first person to link back, you can check back later, or go to the previous week, by following my category, “Stream of Consciousness Saturday,” which you’ll find right below the “Like” button on my post.

6. Copy and paste the rules (if you’d like to) in your post. The more people who join in, the more new bloggers you’ll meet and the bigger your community will get!

7. As a suggestion, tag your post “SoCS” and/or “#SoCS” for more exposure and more views.

8. Have fun!

source: #socs

Movie Review: ‘E.T. The Extra Terrestrial’


E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

Dee Wallace, Henry Thomas, Peter Coyote

Directed by

Steven Spielberg

Written by

Melissa Mathison

Other Info

Family, Sci-Fi
Rated PG

5 Stars (5 / 5)
ET might as well be subtitled ‘A Gen-X childhood.’ Those of us who were around age 10 in 1980 received this film that was aimed right where we live. Suburbs had been a thing in the 60’s and 70’s but they were blooming all over the American map in the 80’s. ET isn’t the only film from that decade that features them prominently. They are still very much with us today but there was rarely a time when new suburban plots and neighborhoods reminded so many people in America of home. The alien named ET is the interloper who walks across the suburban threshold and gives us an accounting of what we’ve done and where we’re headed. There is also a part of ET that will always appeal to any child. He is the little green man with magical powers that all the kids want face time with. He’s the pet on the street that every kids wants until the next cute one comes along.

ET came on the heels of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I remember seeing ads, on paper, that described what the film was going to be about. It explained the meaning of the term ET “Extra Terrestrial.” A creature from a place other than Earth. There was no photo but I think his green finger was pointing. This built incredible suspense or me at that age about a mysterious creature that Steven Spielberg was going to show us.

When the film starts out, we are in a tract home kitchen. There are Mexican designs like stucco visible but it might as well be a cookie cutter copy of what most American kids recognized as home. The kids are playing a board game and a single mother is supplying them with munchies, a pizza is on the way. This could not be more Americana, to me anyway. What makes it even more close to home for me is the way the mother (Dee Wallace) is a real estate agent. My dad was a real estate agent most of my young life in an Orange County city called “Mission Viejo.” It looks almost identical to the town in this film.

There is a little sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and an older brother Mike. Elliot is the middle child who makes the strongest connection with the alien. One night, after being left behind by his ship, ET is discovered by Elliot and that’s where the meter play begins. We get an other-worldly look at ourselves as earthlings through the eyes of this alien called ET.

Spielberg has been making movies that do this for decades. If you recall Back to the Future and the way it took us on a ride back to our childhoods to observe the choices the characters made and how they affected their future. Wouldn’t it be grand to go back and change things? I think it’s a very human thing to wonder that and therefore Spielberg’s film appeals to many. ET has a conflict with grow ups (who might report him to the authorities) and the government, NASA to be specific. In the film, I think Spielberg is showing us about ourselves and the way we want to conquer and own something alien rather than respect and learn from it.

There’s a hypnotic effect that comes from scenes with ET. He is such a creative figure. I heard that Spielberg wanted to make a creature that appeared ugly but would still be endeared to children and adults because of his mannerisms and actions. For many years after the film was released, there were ET shirts and toys selling off the shelves. Watching ET, especially in the final scenes, almost puts me in a trance every time I watch it. He gives the film a dreamy aesthetic that evokes wonder without fear.

I remember the Halloween scene so well because it reminded me of when I would go trick or treating. ET is still being hidden from the mother but the kids pull it off by pretending he’s Gertie dressed up like a ghost in a sheet. He is about her height. To me, this movie is more of a flashback to my childhood than a move plot to be reviewed. I would recommend it to any human as a heartwarming film about childhood. At the same time, know that it is a little sing-song and certainly there is no intense action or definitely no horror. This is a family film with enough of an edge to keep it highly suspenseful and engaging. It has the fingerprint of its household name producer on it for sure. As a classic film of all time, I highly recommend it to you.

Online Diary: ‘Seeking The Real Output’

I’ve been talking to my students about the real product vs the appearance of the real product. There is a shortage of the real stuff in the world today. I want my kids to try to add to that number. Writing a paper according to a rubric is one example. So, that’s the most exciting lesson coming from me today I think. It’s pleasant being a teacher because you get to guide the youth of today. There is also some pressure though because you have to be sure what you are guiding toward is the real and not a smokescreen or mirage.

I’m in a very nice “season” of life I think. There are no more college degrees or other accomplishments to be sought: I can just coast professionally and do what I have been trained to do. I guess the greatest challenge nowadays is to make sure I am challenging myself. Picking those challenges and staying in the race is a skill for those in this season.

I have accumulated many skills across many online modalities. I can set up a website, get on Twitter and all the social media, set up ways to monitor a website, optimize it, and more or less I know how to market something online. These items are of course valuable to online projects but in this season I challenge myself with the content I broadcast. Currently, I do that through Riley Central (You are Here) and Riley on Film. I have a somewhat automated presence at Dynamite Lesson Plan and I am a co-host on a podcast called Talking Stars. In this season, I am always thinking of what is real. That’s the stuff I want to output. There are too many smoke and mirrors online these days. When I witness that, it makes me hunger for online projects that are real and different.

In my teaching it’s the same way.

In my marriage and with my 3 kids it is also a challenge to be something real. This past month has had some parenting challenges for me that I never thought I’d have to deal with. When these things happen, I remember exactly how important the real output is. And while I don’t have time to expand on the thought now, I leave you with this thought: “How can one fill others’ buckets every day without filling ones own?” Yep, that. Have a great day! Thanks for reading my online diary that I publish 2-3 times a week. You can subscribe through RSS freed or through a WordPress “follow.”