That shape in the corner of the room. Is it just a shadow? Or something more? We’ve all seen it. In the middle of the night when your half asleep brain plays tricks on you. Yet, when you scramble to the light, there is nothing there. Or is there?
It is that feeling that Lights Out plays on. That primal fear of the dark and what it hides from you. In this case a rather malevolent being by the name of Diana. The catch? Not only does Diana appear in the dark but she can only move in it too. Shine a light on her and she disappears, but she might just pop back up in the shadows under your bed.
However, it’s not only the dark that will leave you uncomfortable. Lights Out has been described by many as 2016’s Babadook. Unlike Babadook, it doesn’t focus on a parent’s fear of their child but instead a child’s fear of their parent. That overwhelming sensation of watching your mum or your dad do things that you don’t understand and that desperate need for someone to explain it to you.
And it’s that theme that raises this above your standard horror fair. At just over eighty minutes long Lights Out is a tightly scripted film that while by no means jettisoning the jump scare, instead relies on an overwhelmingly creepy feeling to leave you on edge. When Dana leaps out, she leaps out hard but most of the time is spent combing the shadows, scared of what you might see.
It’s a creepiness that isn’t helped by some of the character’s refusal to do simple things like open curtains while exploring dark rooms. Despite those frustrating traits, it’s a well-acted film. Youngster Gabriel Bateman plays a big part in getting across that fear of confusing adults. There’s a wide-eyed innocence to him that makes you want to protect him as his life collapses around him.
Elsewhere, Teresa Palmer is a bit of a stock character as the rebellious teenage daughter. Having run away from home she somehow manages to afford to live in a rather nice flat with a large supply of heavy metal posters despite not appearing to have a job. However, she manages to rise above that, and her relationships with boyfriend Bret and Bateman’s Martin are quite sweet. Finally, Maria Bello’s Sophie – said weird mum – is an excellent depiction of a woman on the edge. She’s torn between her connection to this mysterious Diana and protecting her children. Bello brings a bemused sympathy to the role even when her actions seem unforgivable.
Lights Out does lose its way a bit come the end. The second Diana becomes something more than the shadow in the corner of the room she loses her power. Plus, the backstory is a little ridiculous. Despite that, this is a tightly scripted horror that will satisfy those that crave such things. With James Wan in a production role, there was the expectation that this would be the cattle prod cinema that he has made his bread and butter. Yet under the directorial gaze of David F. Sandberg, Lights Out is a success. Expanding on the idea of the short that he directed in 2013 but never losing what made it effective. The next time you see a shadow in the corner of your room, you might be better to hide under the covers and ask no questions at all.