The best horror films, no matter how formulaic, all have one thing in common. They tap into a fear that is held by the audience if they would want to admit it or not. It is typically a fear of the unknown, that supernatural element that has never been conclusively proven yet holds so much interest. In Lights Out the draw is our fear of the dark.
Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is a confident, independent woman. At least on the outside. She maintains control of her life and the pace at which her relationship is developing with boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia). When she receives an unexpected call, she finds herself speaking to the principal at her brother’s school. Martin (Gabriel Bateman) has been falling asleep in class and the school could not get in touch with their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello). Martin is having a hard time at home. He is seeing things in the dark and now dreads falling asleep. This has an eerily familiar ring to Rebecca. She decides to go back to the family home to try to understand just what is happening.
The set up is quite straightforward and the film doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t seen before. What is does have is tension. From the opening scene where we see the monster in the dark, there is an air of suspense and menace about the film. This is achieved in the way that the darkness is used. Who knew switching a light off and on again so often would be so effective? The film manages to keep this tense atmosphere going for the entire run time. Granted it is a short film but it would have been very easy for it to flag at points.
The actors are not saddled with any ridiculous dialogue, which assists with our enjoyment. The main players are of a good enough standard to be able to carry the film along. The best known of the cast is Maria Bello who plays the mother. She has the most dramatic role as the conduit for the monster and the one with the psychological issues.
As with most contemporary horror films, the problems arise when you actually have a look at the story. So much of it just does not make any sense. I realise that the audience is expected to suspend their disbelief but when the plot holes are so obvious it is actually distracting. At the start, the main protagonist is a strong and intelligent woman. By the final third of the film, she is making all the usual mistakes that are only done for dramatic reasons. The set up in the first part deserves something a bit better than this.
There is a strong suspicion that the film was designed to lead directly into a sequel. Without going into details, the ending feels a bit too quick and easy. It gives the feel of being changed when the idea of extending the story to at least one other film. When I say one, I mean a follow-up then a prequel. The ending doesn’t explain much of what has gone before which is a pity. It ultimately lets the film down.
Overall, Lights Out lets itself down in its finale after a decent build up.