When Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) left home, she thought that her childhood fears were behind her. As a young girl growing up, she was never really sure of what was real when the lights went out at night. Now, her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is experiencing the same unexplained and terrifying events that jeopardized her safety and sanity. Holding a mysterious attachment to their mother named Sophie (Maria Bello), the supernatural entity named Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) has returned with a vengeance to torment the entire family.
There have been many occasions where a film’s trailer gives away everything about the film. This film’s title,”Lights Out”, and the trailers did this film a real disservice as it gave everybody an idea as to what to expect. Everyone has probably seen at least one of the trailers where the woman flicks the light on and off with the evil-looking woman getting closer and closer. The trailers didn’t give everything away but they at least ruined this surprise. This made it all feel less special and more predictable. Most horror films are predictable anyway but this one felt even more so.
This film is not very long to begin with, clocking in at just over 80 minutes, which makes it one of the shortest theatrical films in a long time and it definitely suffered from this. One side of this argument is that it can focus more on the scares but the other side is that the characters and the plot are never fully developed so we never got a sense of who the enemy was or why they were there. Sure it had a connection to Rebecca (Palmer) and Martin’s (Bateman) mother Sophie (Bello) but the film did not explore this far enough. Great horror films find a balance between character and story development and its horror. It is often easier to be scared when we care about the people being scared. With its limited time, it started to establish the complicated family dynamic between Rebecca, Martin, and Sophie but did not go much further.
Because of Sophie’s mental instability, the big dilemma for Rebecca was whether or not to just take Martin and leave like she did before to get away from her condition or to try and help Sophie for Martin’s sake. This was Rebecca’s crisis as she couldn’t help but to try and help Sophie because that was what Martin wanted and since becoming Martin’s legal guardian was going to be a more arduous process. Taking this time kind of was Rebecca’s way to try and make up for leaving Sophie a long time ago. This underlying story gets a little lost in the shuffle as the bulk of the plot’s focus is trying to stop Diana (Vela-Bailey). Her presence was a big distraction from this as she loomed over everything even though the film barely established her.
In order to achieve its desired scares, expect the usual horror logic and decision making. This pretty much goes along with the film’s predictability. Characters will do what you expect. The plot also takes some silly turns in order to justify some of that logic and its scares which didn’t come as much of a surprise. The scares themselves weren’t the most original, consisting mostly of various noises and things seemingly occurring on their own. The majority of the film was not really scary other than a few of the light-induced scares which some of you may have gotten glimpses of in the trailer. The film did a great job with these, utilizing different types of light and having Diana phase in and out of them. It utilized this very well, adding some suspense with character struggling to find a light source to try and get rid of Diana. This was exciting to watch but it didn’t feel as satisfying because of the rushed, undeveloped plot. You couldn’t help but to get a sinking feeling that the film could have gone much further with the horror and was held back by its PG-13 rating.
The acting was surprisingly good here for a horror film. Palmer’s Rebecca was fun to watch as an overprotective sister even though she didn’t have much to do beyond that. She had great chemistry with Bateman with both creating a believable brother and sister relationship. They were great to watch together, having their bond face adversity. Bateman was even better here as the scared Martin. Even though he was scared, he still wanted to help his mother. Bello was okay as Sophie despite having barely anything to do here. Her performance was very nuanced here, fighting between being a mother while being mentally ill. It could have been more impactful if it had fleshed her out more in that regard.
Overall, this was a decent horror film with an interesting plot point but did not have enough time to flesh out its plot and characters.