Film Review: LIGHTS OUT (USA 2016)

lights_outLIGHTS OUT (USA 2016) **
Directed by David F. Sandberg

Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello

Review by Gilbert Seah

LIGHTS OUT is a new low budget horror produced by HOSTEL’s James Wan and directed by David F. Sandberg based on his short story.

LIGHTS OUT is based on several potentially scary premises. There is the mother with mental health problems, the imaginary friend who could be a figment of mother’s imagination (or not), a boy scared of the dark and a monster that disappears and burns in light, surviving only in the dark. But one second thoughts, none of those are original concepts. The last one, though seemingly new is the same premise used in all vampire films.

But the movie plays confidently as a film that scares from things that go bump in the night. A large part of the film obviously takes place at night. The majority of the scares come from the ghoul called Diana who can appear out of nowhere, but only in the dark. As the lights go out in the house, a large mansion of course, the survivors have to arm themselves with torches or flashlights, batteries that soon run out of juice. This ‘novelty’ runs out very fast. After half an hour, the film really gets monotonous, with Diana appearing and disappearing. A bit of distraction is also provided in the script in which Diana might be imaginary and in the head of the mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), who was previously a mental patient.

Sandberg knows how to incite fear from small and dark enclosed spaces. But it takes much more to make a complete horror film.

The story goes like this. When the film opens, a creature kills a man who had promised to return home to his son who had complained of his mother being mental. The boy, Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is still afraid years later with the mother still having problems now manifested in Diana, who she has befriended in the mental hospital. Now Diana is able to appear as a creature but only in the darkness. Diana is breaking her promise that she will not hurt the mother’s children. Enter (out of nowhere), Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), Martin’s older sister and her sexy boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia) to rescue Martin from crazy mom and monster Diana.

The film makes the rules of the monster as it goes along – how it exists and so forth. The actors all do their screaming convincingly with Bret being the beau in distress. This is more of a female film where the women are heroes with the male and female roles reversed. No complaint here, as it is good to see things going the other way for a change.

But LIGHTS OUT would have succeeded as a 30-minute short film. It is stretched out too long, even at only 80 minutes. Boring, over manipulative and predictable, the film is a good idea that unfortunately does not play out as a full length feature. But it should make its money owing to its low budget. It would be interesting to see what writer/director Sandberg comes out with next.

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