I sadly wasn’t able to go see a new movie this week, so I decided I would go back about a month for my next review. I’m going to back up about a month and talk about the horror movie I saw recently that wasn’t Don’t Breath.
I’m going to level with you guys. The trailer for Lights Out had me really excited. As you’ll know if you regularly read my blog, I’m a big fan of horror. Horror executed well has a very important and consistent characteristic. Something is horrifying if something about it is grotesquely counter to what it we think it should be. This is better if it’s something that bothers us on a fundamental level.
Take zombies (something I’ll be covering Saturday) for example. People shouldn’t eat people. People that die should stay dead. These are fairly fundamental truths we’ve known our whole lives. Zombies, however, both come back from the dead and eat people. It’s wrong, and we react to it instinctually. Modern culture has somewhat desensitized us to zombies, but the fact remains that they are horrifying to us.
Which, in my characteristically roundabout way, brings me back to the movie. Lights Out has a simple premise. A young woman and her family are being plagued by a strange darkness woman. She appears only as a silhouette, and only when there is very little or no illumination. If she is standing in a room and the lights turn on, she vanishes. She isn’t gone, simply invisible and incorporeal. If the lights go out, she appears again.
The initial teaser showed little more than this, and honestly? Good. Because holy hell that premise is terrifying. It’s instinctual for humans to be afraid of the dark. After all, we don’t know what’s in the dark. And what we don’t know we fear.
This time though there actually is something in the dark. The woman in the dark is a terrifying super demon that’ll rip you limb from limb. You’re only safe when there’s light. Even then, there’s only so long before it gets dark. She isn’t frozen in place when there’s light, she just can’t hurt you. So when the lights go out she’ll be right there. To make matters work, any light that isn’t the sun tends to flicker and go out if she’s nearby. Safety is never assured.
This doesn’t just plague on our fears of the dark, it plagues on our fears of being alone and being asleep. How can you risk going to sleep if the lights could flicker out and leave you dead while you slumber?
Needless to say, the entire concept is incredibly intriguing to me. The film does it justice, too, with a number of scenes that utilize the mechanics f the situation in a novel way. The ending in particular was very satisfying in that regard.
If there is a shortcoming to be had in the movie it’s definitely in the acting. Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello both do perfectly serviceable jobs. The former is Rebecca, the lead, and she periodically comes off as stiff and unlikable. The latter is her mother, who comes off as crazy in an entirely too ham-fisted way. Alicia Vella-Bailey played the malevolent spirit. Credit should go to her for the performance as well the editing team for making her look so creepy.
SPOILER ALERT: From here on out I’ll be discussing the plot of the movie with spoilers included. Stop here if you’re going to see the movie and don’t want to know what happens.
So I’ll admit, the overall plot doesn’t quite deliver on the premise as well as it could. Don’t get me wrong it’s intriguing. It just isn’t handled with as much finesse as it deserved. Shortly into the movie we discover that the mysterious woman is named Diana, and she’s a friend of Rebecca’s mother Sophie. As I said earlier, Sophie comes off as completely crazy from the word go, so it’s no surprise that she’s connected.
We find out early that Diana and Sophie befriended each other as children at mental hospital. Diana had a skin disease that made her sensitive to light. People reacted as if she were a monster, and it left her depressed and misanthropic in a violent way. To make matters worse the doctors try to cure her with experimental “light” therapy. Basically they blast her with high intensity UV light. Except a glitch causes the light to ramp up, incinerating Diana entirely. Except Diana doesn’t stay dead. She returns as a malevolent dark entity to try and befriend Sophie, her only connection to this world.
Which is… kind of okay, I guess? It’s certainly not the worst origin for a movie monster I’ve heard. But it comes off a little less “intriguing horror film” and a little more “slasher flick”. If you read my Don’t Breathe review you’ll know I love slasher flicks. The problem is Lights Out didn’t want to be a slasher flick. It wanted to be something more.
Still, I can’t say I’m not pleased with the ending. Despite earlier opinions, Sophie finally decides Diana is too dangerous. As the darkness woman is about to kill Rebecca, Sophie takes a gun and shoots herself in the head. Diana’s connection to the world is severed, and she dissolves into Ash.
It’s an ending I can really get behind. It’s consistent within the rules put forth by the movie, it comes at it from a different angle, and it has a real emotional punch. It isn’t without flaws, such as being a little easy to read. But it is a really good ending, in my opinion. An ending that capped a pretty tense and exciting climax. A couple of cops show up to aid the heroes, only to get brutally slaughtered by Diana enraged.
The whole thing is capped off with a sequel tease. As Rebecca and co. sit in an ambulance recovering from their ordeal, the lights of the ambulance flicker inexplicably. Signaling Diana’s continued existence? A possible stinger for a sequel?
Yes, in fact. The film did really well. New Line and Warner Bros. already greenlit the next one.