Friday, July 29, 2016
REVIEW: LIGHTS OUT
Dealing with the grief of losing her husband, Sophie gives up her medication and slips into a bout with depression. Her son and daughter then begin dealing with a sinister supernatural force that can only be seen in the dark. As their mother gives into her depression more and more, it becomes clear that she is deeply connected to the force and must be rescued from its power.
The only trailer I really saw for LIGHTS OUT came just before a special fan screening of James Wan's THE CONJURING 2 earlier this year. We saw it on a huge, bright screen with a thunderous sound system and it was terrifying. To be perfectly honest, I was so scared by the trailer that I wasn't entirely certain I was going to see the film, but then a friend of mine uttered the words every horror fan wants to hear "I don't like horror movies, but this looks good and I'll see it with YOU." I couldn't resist and found myself in a full theater on a Tuesday night, prepping for a night of insomnia.
Now that I am on the other side of LIGHTS OUT I can tell you that it is a solid time at the movies, but it's not the grand entrance of a fresh new voice in horror like I had hoped. James Wan is the best horror director of the new millennium and I will continue to watch everything he puts out. As a producer, on the other hand, Wan hasn't shown the same deftness that he has behind the camera, churning out duds like ANNABELLE and 800 SAW sequels. That being said, LIGHTS OUT is certainly his best outing as a producer.
The movie is based off of an award winning short film of the same title. As such, the premise doesn't really sustain itself for that long, but the filmmakers knew this and kept the film to a lean 81-minutes, which I appreciated. On the same token, the movie really feels like its killing time until the last 20-minutes kicks in and the final showdown with the creature begins. The movie is slavish to its premise and goes to great lengths to ensure that every time light is present the creature disappears. It's a great little touch, and I was very impressed that the creature disappeared even in the muzzle flash of gunfire.
Unfortunately, for all the care and thought that went into the rules of the universe, not as much time was dedicated to the story. The story isn't bad, but it's just kind of generic and the ultimate message of the film is kind of insensitive to those with mental illness. However, I don't think the intent was to send such a weird message, it is just kind of a rookie mistake made by a first time screenwriter and director. Of course, there is an argument to be made that a major studio released the picture without suggesting changes be made to rectify the mistake, but I honestly do think the intent is not malicious.
The big problem with LIGHTS OUT is that everything is in service to the scares. This means that while the scary bits are effective in a thrill ride way, they make no lingering impression as you leave the theater because nothing else was quite on the same level. I saw the film with a fun crowd and screams and laughs abounded, but I didn't really have much to talk about on the way home since the characters and story were fairly paint by numbers.
When the credits rolled I was fine with LIGHTS OUT. There are certainly worse horror films out there, and it's not a bad way to kill an hour in a half during the summer. I just wish there had been a little more character and narrative meat on the bones to sink into between the creeps. The premise for the movie is solid and I think a good film could have been lurking just below the surface, but as it is, LIGHTS OUT is a draft or two away from being a truly great modern horror film. David F. Sandberg will certainly work again and I hope he's hungry enough to keep learning with each film. He shows promise, but is still a little inexperienced to be turning in James Wan level work.