Horror is a genre that is particularly difficult to get right, and due to that reason, Hollywood often doesn’t care if it’s done right since most horror movies will at least make a little over their budget, horror being cheap to produce but relatively popular with audiences. Most horror relies on jump scares to elicit a fight or flight reaction rather than true scares, characters making obviously bad decisions to move the plot along because if those in the film acted intelligently there would be no more story, and gore because it appeals to that part of us that likes seeing things we know we shouldn’t be. Good horror movies rely on psychology to get their scares, the cheap tricks are sometimes there, but are more of a distraction and the real horror comes from, usually, the unknown, whether that unknown be a monster we’ve never seen before, something lurking just out of sight, or our senses being fooled into believing misinformation. The very best horror films are just like good horror films, but they also are using our fear to allow us to experience very real world traumas and tribulations through the filter of metaphor. Lights Out is an example of those very best horror films.
Lights Out on its surface is about a family being haunted by a feminine ghost like figure which only appears in darkness. Turn the lights on, and she disappears, outside of lit areas, however, she is very real and very dangerous. Without going into true spoilers, we also find out that this ghost-like woman seems to stalk only one particular family,
While I will not reveal any details about the plot still, I cannot discuss this film anymore without at least giving clues as to what happens in the film, so if you want to remain 100% completely spoiler free skip to the last paragraph just above my rating. If you don’t mind some hints when discussing themes or you’ve already seen Lights Out, then keep on reading.
and understanding what the meaning underneath the surface of the movie is the key to why that is. This is a film that in a way has to be viewed inside out. If we take it purely at face value, it’s an okay jorror film with some major flaws, but if you understand why Sandberg made this movie, you can see that what seem like flaws are smart decisions and making the film any other way would detract from what he is trying to accomplish.
Lights Out is not a film about a ghost, or fear of the dark, or any typical horror trope, but rather it’s a film about the way a member of a family with a mental illness can make those closest to them suffer. It had to be done as a horror film, because to do it any other way would seem too insensitive to the person suffering from mental illness as this movie is not meant to evoke any sympathy for them, but instead to show what those around them go through. Sometimes people are unable to take the struggle of trying to help a loved one, and they leave and never come back, an option not available to the children who have a parent suffering from madness.
Looking at Lights Out as a film just trying to scare us, it’s still good, but it leaves a lot unanswered. Looking at it as a metaphor, however, and we see that those things unanswered not only don’t need to be answered, but would actually detract from the film’s purpose if they were addressed. It’s not a question of leaving the unknown as the unknown to elicit fear, either, it’s because those things left unanswered are there purely to further the plot and are not part of the overall themes of a family dealing with mental illness. To answer those things left open ended by film’s end would definitely be possible, but would distract from the message director and writer Sandberg is giving to us.
The cast all does a good job, and of special note is Gabriel Bateman as the youngest sibling in the family, Martin. While no performance here is particularly great, they are all solid and Gabriel may do the best job of all despite the fact that he is only, well I’m not sure exactly how old, but very low double digits in age at the very most. David Sandberg as the film’s director and writer of the original short film (Eric Helsserer is the writer of this screenplay) is the real star of Lights Out. It seems he was given limited resources to make his movie, and he used every one of them to their greatest effect making a movie that relies on what’s not seen rather than on special effects, on action and dialogue rather than on A-list stars, and on claustrophobia rather than expansive sets.
I have no idea if Lights Out will ultimately end up being a classic of horror, but aside from big names being attached it has all the makings of a movie that should be. It does scare, it scares the bejeesus out of you and that’s coming from someone who is aware of horror movie tricks and rarely falls for them, but more importantly it scares you for a reason. When you walk out of Lights Out you haven’t just been entertained, you’ve been shown what life is like for far too many around the world who have to suffer alongside a family member in pain. That is what horror movies are for, to entertain, yes, but also to make us understand what we normally cannot perceive without help. If you are the type that hates loose ends and need every detail wrapped up by movie’s end, you will be annoyed by this one, I guarantee it. If you can put that aside, though, you are in for a treat.
Rating: 8.2 out of 10