By Thomas Simpson
Modern horror maestro, James Wan, switches to producer duties to present 2016’s latest fear flick. Directed by David F. Sandberg, Lights Out is a solid supernatural scare fest that will have audiences investing in a bedside lamp.
Based on Sandberg’s 2013 short film of the same name, the premise involves a ghoulish figure called Diana who uses the darkness to strike at her victims. This allows Sandberg to employ a very simple and effective technique of playing on people’s fear of the dark and what lurks in the shadows. Martin (Gabriel Bateman) lives with his mother Sophie (Maria Bello) and is frightened by a strange apparition he sees in the gloom. Unable to sleep through fear he contacts his step-sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) who recalls her own childhood issues with her mother. Along with her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia), Rebecca investigates her mother’s past and uncovers a terrifying home truth that links the family to the devilish creature.
Based on the aforementioned short film the screenplay by Eric Heisserer deals with turning a terrifying idea into an 80-minute feature. The short runtime allows for some backstory while preventing the premise from overstaying its welcome. There is no great mystery to events as Heisserer is perfectly content with presenting the story upfront, allowing Sandberg to concentrate on the important task of giving the audience chills.
The director is partial to his jump scares however he earns the right to use them. He doesn’t facilitate the technique cheaply, concentrating on frightening viewers through sustained terror and leaving them uneasy whenever a light so much as flickers. The device could easily grow tiresome after the first half hour, instead the fear factor only increases as the stakes are raised. The film may lean on traditional horror movie clichés from time to time, but it’s not a crutch for it to rely on.
Sandberg doesn’t rely on a gruesome body count to get attention which makes the deaths mean more when they happen. The likable characters also ensure that we’re invested in their plight meaning we care when they’re in danger. They aren’t merely cannon fodder for Diana with the small cast keeping the film tight-knit.
Filmed on a budget of just under $5 million, Lights Out has smashed the box office to rake in over $110 million and counting. Naturally, a sequel has been greenlit. Whether that will be as effective remains to be seen, in the meantime Lights Out is a skillfully crafted horror that will make you think twice about turning the light off.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.