Something is scratching at Martin’s (Gabriel Bateman: American Gothic) bedroom door. While he shivers in terror, his mother chats with an invisible friend, Diana.
There is something lurking in the dark, ready to attack when the bedside lamp goes out. Martin watches in vigil night after night as the thing in the dark tries to come closer.
When it gets Martin’s father, he turns to his estranged stepsister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer: Triple 9), who has had her own troubles with a creature that lived in bedroom nooks.
Can Rebecca save her brother from a menace no one can see? What is the hold Diana has over their mother? Why hasn’t everyone in this movie run to Eddie Bauer to buy camping lanterns?
This movie about primal fears both thrills and entertains. For his feature directorial debut, David F. Sandberg expanded a short by the same name (available on YouTube) into a thoughtful, interesting, old-fashioned horror movie that focuses on creating a sense of dread. He plays smartly on the idea that Diana can come from any dark space, be it an empty room or an archway in an old house. He then fills the frame with shadows, making us unsure of where the threat will come from. This sense of uncertainty builds tension and keeps visual interest.
Sandberg also chose to use mostly practical effects. This means that when someone is thrown across a room or a shadow disappears behind a door, it’s not a trick of a computer but an actual event captured on film. This gives the events weight and realism often lost in a world of CGI.
The other strength of Lights Out is its cast. Bateman is the rare child actor who isn’t cloying and who can carry a scene. Palmer is also a rarity for a horror lead as she neither gets unnecessarily naked nor acts like an idiot when problems arise. The bond between the two is believable and sweet.
Lights Out gives us storytelling rather than quick jump scares. If you want bloody monsters popping out from every corner, you may be disappointed. Check out the short version on YouTube to get a sense of the movie’s tone before you plunk down your cash. But if you’re looking for a thrilling reason to run up your light bill, Lights Out is worth the ticket.
Good Horror • PG-13 • 81 mins.