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Lights Out (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

LIGHTS OUT (2016)

Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Alicia Vela-Bailey, Alexander DiPersia

Written By: Eric Heisserer, David F. Sandberg (from the short film by)

Directed By: David F. Sandberg

The Shot

Lights Out takes two of the most basic premises in horror – fear of the dark and a ghost that just won’t leave a family alone – puts some meat on the bone, and turns out something special.  For horror fans, this one’s an easy choice: put the lights out and enjoy 80-odd minutes of creepy.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CAVE AGED.

From out of the dark…


Pairs Well With...

SAM ADAMS LIGHT.

If you’re going to put the lights out, you might as well go with some halfway decent ones.

“Did we wake you?”


Fear of the dark.  It is one of the most pervasive, deeply entrenched fears that plague the human species, and thus a great starting off point for a horror flick.  Tack on a vindictive ghost with a stalker complex, and you’ve got Lights Out.

You’ve also got a very good way to enjoy 80-odd minutes of creepiness.

Lights Out takes a very basic premise – a ghost has an unhealthy attachment to her still-living childhood friend and does not appreciate any competition for the woman’s attention – tacks on a signature gimmick – the ghost can’t handle being under direct light, hence the title – and throws just enough extra meat on its bones to make it stand out as something special.  Given that the economy of its presentation is just as tight as its sub-ten million dollar budget, that’s some impressive work, especially in the hands of a first time feature film director (who is, by the way, adapting his own highly acclaimed short film).

From the very first sequence, the atmosphere of Lights Out is one of delightful unease, playing upon that natural fear of the dark and then amping things up with one of the most outstanding nasties in recent horror memory: the shadowy wraith that is Diana.  Though she theoretically appears within minutes of the movie’s start, the decision to present her only in silhouette for the majority of the picture intensifies her shudder factor and keeps her presence from feeling stale at any point.  The fact that she’s played by a real human being (Alicia Vela-Bailey) with fluid physicality as opposed to being a flat CGI animation further enhances things, with the end result being a creature with the true potential to spawn nightmares long after the end credits have rolled.

If that’s not effective horror, I’m not sure what is.

Diana’s effectiveness is aided by the fact that the audience is given a victim set (what else would you call them?) that’s worth rooting for: a a grade school age boy (Gabriel Bateman) who is not even the slightest bit obnoxious, and his “got-her-shit-together” young adult sister (Teresa Palmer), backed up by the sister’s boyfriend (Alexander DiPersia) who is, shockingly, not a jerkwad frat boy.  Most horror flicks offer up at least one character whom the audience hopes will wind up dead, but Lights Out offers no such safety valve, and that makes it all the more effective when danger looms, since the audience doesn’t really want anyone to die.  This includes the character of the mother (Maria Bello), who is the willing conduit allowing Diana to exist.  It would be easy to hate this person on the grounds of what she’s allowing to occur, but Bello’s brilliant performance makes her into a tragic and even sympathetic figure for whom the audience members also find they can root.

That’s a pretty remarkable feat.

And it needs to be, because the bones-and-lean-meat plot doesn’t allow for much in the way of mystery or misdirection, and even the most mildly observant audience member will surely figure out how Lights Out must end long, long before it actually does.  The PG-13 rating also means that gore is out of the question (as is gratuitous nudity, for that matter), and so all of the film’s scares start off from a precarious platform indeed that is wholly dependent on the strength of the characters (which are still archetypes, however well they’re played) and the combined power of its atmosphere and pacing (that’s all you, Mr. First Time Director Man) to succeed.  And within the confines of its exactly-long-enough 80-odd minute runtime, it works.

Indeed, it works so well that for any horror fan – even those skeptical of the sub-R rating – Lights Out shines as one of the most highly effective standalone horror flicks in recent memory, and a sure bet both at the theatre and on the small screen later.

(I am nervous, though, about the prospect of an already-greenlit sequel, since the lore presented in this picture doesn’t really leave room for one.  But that’s a different animal.)

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2016


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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