In Lights Out, a little boy named Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is having trouble staying awake in school, having fallen asleep in class for the third time. When Martin’s big sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) goes to pick him up at school, she learns that the reason he can’t sleep at home is because Martin is being terrorized by a vengeful apparition that lurks in the shadows. And when he tried to get help from his mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), Martin saw her speaking in a conspiratorial manner to the monstrous wraith in her bedroom. Rebecca, who lives on her own, decides to keep Martin with her at her apartment.
When she was younger and still living at home, Rebecca suffered very badly at the hands of her mother before running off to start her own life. Now she wants to spare Martin the same torment, yet the social worker that’s been assigned to Martin’s case informs Rebecca that trying to take Martin away from his mother is easier said than done. Rebecca eventually discovers that this shadowy assailant is not a figment of Martin’s imagination, and that it even has a name, Diana. And somehow this ghastly apparition, which thrives in the shadows, had attached itself to her mother. And now Rebecca is in Diana’s sights.
Based on the short film, which was also directed by David F. Sandberg, Lights Out is a fun little shocker that should play very well at a Halloween gathering, or any other time you feel like scaring the bejeezus out of yourself. What makes it work so well is that it uses the primal fear we all have of the dark, which is Diana’s domain. There are some very effective shock moments when people turn the lights off, only to see Diana’s scary-looking silhouette standing in the shadows, but when they turn the light back on, she’s gone. This is played to great effect during a sequence where a room is illuminated only by a blinking neon sign that’s outside the windows.
There’s also a great visual moment where someone is shooting at the advancing Diana, and she momentarily disappears in the flash of the gunfire, only to reappear, even closer, in the darkness. Maria Bello is very good as Sophie, managing to make her character sympathetic, and clearly avoiding the evil mommy dearest trope. Teresa Palmer is sturdy, if a little one note–it becomes obvious that she’s simply the perky young horror movie heroine that’s been established in such classics as the original Halloween and Nightmare On Elm Street. While Lights Out may not have very strong characterization, it still hits the ground running, and never lets up the tension and suspense once during its 80 minutes. It may not be in the same league as It Follows, but it’s still an entertaining ride. –SF