Lights Out – 2016

Director David F. Sandberg
Screenplay Eric Heisserer
Starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Billy Burke, Alexander DiPersia, Lotta Losten

First thing’s first. My teenage years took place in the ’80’s, so every time I ever hear the phrase “Light’s Out,” Peter Wolfe’s first solo success comes to mind:

I was kind of hoping this film would supplant that image in my mind. It did not.

Many people experienced Sandberg’s first version of the concept of this story in a 2013. He said that the excellent, if brief, story changed his life for the better. As well it should have:

Since then, he was contracted to make this full length version of the concept and upon seeing that, producer James Wan hired him to make Annabelle 2, which is currently in production.

Lights Out as a full length feature has the challenge of being more than one shot. In this, it fails to exceed the length of it’s PG-13 grasp. It has some real nice moments…some that defy convention even.

We begin at a mannequin warehouse factory. Father and factory owner Paul (Burke) sends his last worker (Losten) home after she is spooked by a shadow in the dark. Soon enough, that shadow overtakes him and we find him disposed of in a brutal manner.

Cut scene to months later when we see Rebecca (Palmer) drawn back into the life of her step-brother Martin (who is the son of Paul). Their mother Sophie (Bello) has been off the meds for a while, and it’s starting to have an effect on the youngster. It’s not just that the mother is acting strange, it’s that she’s talking to the thing that runs around in the dark that we saw in the warehouse earlier. It’s also something that Rebecca finds most familiar.

Rebecca has a boyfriend, Bret (DiPersia) who just looks like one of those guys who is really going to get it from the malevolent force. In fact, we kind of want him to, at first. Stick around though.

There is some back and forth with Martin for a while, as Rebecca and Sophie battle over who’s going to keep him. Rebecca does the obligatory digging. Sooner than one can say neon lights, she finds the obvious stash of incriminating evidence indicating what the history is between Sophie and this force that lives in the shadows.

From here, it’s just following numbers. If it’s obvious what is going on to us, it’s a painful slow burn for the characters. They have to be at certain places during certain times, so the lights can go out, and bad stuff can happen.

The performances are exactly what one would expect from a movie like this. Everyone keeps you in the mood, except for Bello, who seems to be channeling Dee Wallace circa The Frighteners here.

There are a few scary moments in Lights Out (hint: they don’t include Bello), but overall, the film is like a first date movie. The kind you take a girl to when you aren’t sure where she is with the concept of a scary movie, but you wouldn’t mind having her jump into your arms at least once. That might happen, but no more than that.

No one outside of Bello embarrasses themselves in the process. If the movie lacks for drama after the last shot is fired, at least one genuine surprise made me smile. That’s not usually the goal for a scary movie, but I think it works here.

As the credits roll, though, Peter Wolfe immediately came to mind.

(**1/2 out of *****)

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