Things that go bump in the night have always been frightening staples in horror films. Based on its name alone, LIGHTS OUT should conjure up scares that would make for an entertaining summer horror flick, but the film ultimately has the entertainment value of a haunted house in an elementary school cafeteria. If it even deserves that much credit.
Directed by David Sandberg and written by Eric Heisserer, the movie begins with Twilight alum Billy Burke in some sort of factory that makes clothes, mannequins, or clothed mannequins (that’s never really established). He and his co-worker are the last two in the factory for the day and they happened to be using as little light as possible in a huge factory. When his co-worker switches off the light in one of the rooms she thinks she sees a menacing figure. She turns the light back on and the figure is gone. She turns it off and it’s there. This goes on for a good 15 to 20 seconds and she finally freaks the eff out and tells her boss. He doesn’t believe her and she goes home and leaves a Tom Skerrit-look alike to deal with it — but it ends up dealing with him.
After the long-winded opening, we go into a long-winded exposition. We are introduced to Sophie (Maria Bello) and her son Martin (Gabriel Bateman). Martin is in bed late at night (with the lights on) at home and hears his mom, who clearly has some mental issues, talking to someone in her room. He goes to see what’s up and she isn’t talking to anyone — so it seems. Turns out she’s talking to the same menacing figure that killed Billy Burke (who’s Martin’s stepdad) in the mannequin factory and Martin is not having it.
Martin’s estranged sister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), is called into his school when he is caught falling asleep during class. Rebecca takes him home because it is clear that Sophie is an unfit mother. One thing leads to another and that same figure starts haunting them because it turns out this dark figure has an obnoxiously contrived connection to their mother. The movie wades through its plot points and never really tries to be something remotely fun. It just sits there satisfied with its subpar horror tropes and boringness.
A horror movie titled Lights Out should be good, but in a cinematic landscape that includes the The Conjuring (James Wan actually produced this pic) and 10 Cloverfield Lane, a movie has to step up its game in order to impress or even have some sort of relevance that sticks with an audience. Even movies from The Purge franchise, although lacking substance, maintain an appreciative B-movie identity and have confidence that people buy into. Lights Out never finds a rhythm and wastes talents like Maria Bello and the often overlooked Palmer. The movie seemed disposable to Warner Bros. and it certainly was.
Based on a short film of the same name (also directed by Sandberg), Lights Out should have stayed within the confines of its original 3 minute run time. Stretching it out to an 81-minute feature was an arduous task – and it showed. What should have been a brisk horror movie that brings frightful joy to the audience turns out to be a labored movie that seemed to last for a tortuous eternity.
Running time: 81 minutes
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer