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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Lights Out
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by Jay Seaver

"Fast, fun, and a little bit frightening."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The more horror movies I see, the more I appreciate the ones that do not mess around with unnecessary complications but which can still use their high concept to create nifty moments. That is "Lights Out" in a nutshell - it's got a reason to be scared of the dark, some clever uses of the concept, and a quick pace that doesn't leave room for contrived conflicts when there's enough genuine suspense.

Meet Martin (Gabriel Bateman), a likable young kid who just lost his father and is seeing his mother Sophie (Maria Bello) starting to crack. In an unusual turn of events, Mom's the one who seems to have an imaginary friend, except that "Diana" only seems to appear in the dark and has the sort of glowing eyes and claw-like hands that would have any kid losing sleep. That's why he's falling asleep in class, and when Child Protective Services can't contact Sophie, they call his half-sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who cut ties when her father - Sophie's first husband - disappeared.

Though studio horror movies have been a game of how much of the violence can be included in a film that is given a PG-13 rating for a while now (I first noticed the phenomenon with the American version of The Grudge, but it probably goes back further), part of what makes Lights Out a bit of a breath of fresh air is how, while it should never be show up the "family" category of one's preferred streaming service due to a few spots where covering the kids' eyes becomes mandatory, it feels more like a movie built to scare kids made a bit more intense than one made for adults that was pulled back. The boy at the center is a big part of that, not just for being about ten years old but for exemplifying how, at its heart, this family wants to pull together, and there's not a lot of time wasted on acrimony or trying to make this complicated with emotional divide-and-conquer tactics.

Beyond that, the horror-movie stuff is meant to get the audience grinning after they've landed from the jump scare. Director David F. Sandberg (extending a short he made a few years back) delights in presenting Diana as a shadow that can only partially be seen in a darkened room, and then, when the characters get a little bit of distance, filling the screen with inky areas where a viewer will strain to see her. He and his editors will give the audience a second or two longer to howl that this situation isn't good when things take a turn, sometimes giving the characters a moment to nervously note it. When it comes time for a chase, Sandberg and screenwriter Eric Heisserer find surprising and varied sources of light and darkness, springing them on the audience without much warning but generally doing so in a way that makes the characters appear smart rather than lucky.

They're a nice group; Teresa Palmer and Gabriel Bateman capture a lot of unusual dynamics in how Rebecca and Martin are clearly family despite probably never having actually lived together, and both give the appropriate impression of being kind of brave. They're not quite giving off a vibe that says they're obviously heroic, no overriding air of determination, but there's something quietly substantial to them. They've got an enjoyable ally in Alexander DiPersia, whose desire to be helpful and supportive as Rebecca's boyfriend is so charming and earnest that he's got a huge slasher-movie target on his back. The same goes for Billy Burke, whose character of Martin's father might as well be named "poor bastard who dies before the credits to show us what's coming"; he quickly gives us a fine rooting interest in the beginning and a sense that he might have brought some stability to this family.

And then there's Maria Bello, who isn't actually on-screen that much as Sophie but makes a huge impression when she is - introduced as the sort of heightened crazy person who is often the target of scorn in these movies, she hands the opportunity to evolve the part into someone who was uniquely vulnerable to Diana's influence and tortured by her long-term because, monster aside, she's genuinely struggling with mental illness. Bello gets a role not often played straight or sympathetically in this sort of scary movie and makes it both stand out and fit. She's not always tremendously well-served by a script that makes pretty big jumps in couple of places for the same of keeping things moving, but Sophie is another example of how there's some genuine humanity where other films of the genre just have cruelty.

It makes for a very fun movie that, won't have the audience coming out of the theater disturbed, questioning what is lurking in the shadows, but will certainly get people jumping at each other to try and get a rise afterward. It does that in an efficient 80 minutes, too, and I can't help but be in favor of a movie that doesn't mess around like that.

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originally posted: 07/23/16 22:56:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell not bad but derivative 3 stars
9/02/16 Angel Baby Araiza Movie was good but the ending kinda left me asking more about what happen to her father? 3 stars
7/31/16 action movie fan good shocker but needed to develop diana,s situation better 4 stars
7/25/16 NancyN Finally, a horror flick that delivers; good jumps, eerie make-up, taps into our basic fears 4 stars
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  22-Jul-2016 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-Oct-2016


  DVD: 25-Oct-2016

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