Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello
David F. Sandberg
Eric Heisserer, David F. Sandberg
(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
Maria 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 be 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 mother. 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.
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.