Throughout history the dark has been used as a device to add an extra layer to horror movies. How can something so simple have the ability to evoke dread amongst viewers? Imagine Dracula, an icon of horror that is synonymous with darkness and now imagine it once again but brightly lit instead; it’s nowhere near as effective. That’s not saying that horror cannot be frightening if it takes place in daylight. It’s just rare and hard to pull off. It’s not simply the jet-black appearance of an unilluminated environment but the basic trepidation of what could be camouflaged within. Lights Out takes this simple concept and creates a film out of it, let’s see how it does.
In a textiles warehouse, co-worker Esther sees a silhouette of a woman with monstrously long fingers. Creepily, only when she turns the lights off. She then sees nothing when the lights are on. She warns owner Paul about the apparition and leaves. Paul is later dragged into the darkness and gruesomely killed by the demon.
It is revealed that Paul’s frightened son Martin is being haunted by the same creature. If that wasn’t enough, it seems that the life form is named Diana and has some sort of hold over the boy’s schizophrenic mother, Sophie. He overhears her having conversations in her room at night with the shadows in a darkened corner which naturally scares the crap out of him.
Due to these events, Martin obviously struggles with sleep which gets the attention of the social worker at his school. This introduces his step-sister Rebecca who lives alone in an apartment. She agrees to look into the matter and decides to have Martin come live with her for the time being. Well, it’s not long before Diana shows up and starts to make things ever so slightly uncomfortable for the pair. This leads to Rebecca remembering her own childhood experiences with Diana making her realise just how long Diana has had a hold on their mother and how possessive she can be.
Sophie and her boyfriend Bret investigate the connection of Sophie with Diana and they come to a shocking revelation about their past.
Lights Out takes something as extremely basic as the darkness itself. Then, uses it in a number of inventive ways to create some memorable moments. The performances are strong and the characters are likeable enough, even if they are poorly developed. You’re given some slight backstory but there isn’t much to make you truly care if they come to harm.
The best thing about the film is the clever ways in which it uses the darkness to have Diana appear. This, as well as the many inventive ways the characters generate light to make her disappear. There is a really wonderful shot of someone firing a gun at Diana. You see her appearing and then disappearing in quick succession as she approaches with each blast.
A lot of the short 82 minute runtime is spent exploring the origins of Diana and how she came to meet Sophie. It’s interesting enough but doesn’t feel that necessary and it does leave plenty of unanswered questions. When you break it down, it’s really a story of a family that has been torn apart by tragedies and the things they are willing to do to pull it back together.
Diana herself is a fearsome looking figure; her shadowed silhouette amongst the darkness is pretty damn effective.
Lights Out has a simple concept. It executes things well with some nice visuals. Unfortunately, it’s rushed and muddled attempt at explaining things is frustrating.