“Lights out” is what parents are known to say to their children at bedtime, but in this horror show, the ghost Diana (Vela-Bailey) is commanding everyone to darken the house so she can come out. And if they don’t do it, she does it decisively, scarily. The film is gripping and jump-worthy, with gruesome special effects, eliciting many groans and screams from the audience.
The back-story is that Rebecca (Palmer) has left her mother’s house to get away from strange goings-on. Sophie (Bello) has a history of psychiatric problems, so this doesn’t seem extraordinary. But then, Rebecca is contacted by her brother’s (Bateman) school after Martin shows signs of something being wrong. The child welfare authorities are involved, but Rebecca is reluctant to follow up on the choices they give her. Not being very experienced in childcare, she attempts to take Martin under her wing (not a good time, given her ambivalent relationship with her boyfriend Brad) (DiPersia), and is a little lame at first until Martin lets her know he is seeing the same things she did that prompted her to leave home.
Now, of course, this is a horror show, so she doesn’t contact the police; she attempts to manage the situation on her own. Brad wants to help, and at first she pushes him away, as she is wont to do, but eventually accepts his help. The story continues with the name ‘Diane’ being carved on the wood floor, a drawing of the family (in which Diane has inserted herself) being snatched away mysteriously, and doors opening and closing on their own, usually with a bang.
Lights Out is well done, with only a few of the characteristics that I inevitably feel are stupid, like going down into a dark cellar when there’s been a disturbance, not calling the authorities, not explaining to loved ones what’s going on, etc. For the most part, writer/director David F. Sandberg and writer Eric Heisserer sustain the suspense while keeping the action reasonably plausible and intelligent, all nicely enhanced by composer Benjamin Wallfisch’s music.
The actors do a fine job, with Teresa Palmer ably taking on the starring role, showing emotional transitions, shock, and panic throughout her trials. Child stars seem to have a naturalness that adults may or may not have, and Gabriel Bateman is a case example, showing a child who is logical, sensitive, and duly frightened by the occult. I especially appreciated the character Brad, Rebecca’s long-suffering boyfriend, masterfully played by Alexander DiPersia. Maria Bello is inevitably fine in her performances, and she underplays nicely a haunted woman whom everyone regards as crazy.
This is a film that genuinely horrifies without resorting to heavy-handed special effects, which, for me, is scarier in making it more plausible. Although ghosts may not necessarily be plausible, enough people believe in them—and they have some validity in relation to emotional disturbances—that if they are well done, as here, they can serve as a metaphor for many kinds of human fears.
For me, the most eloquent scene of Lights Out is toward the end: “There’s no me without you.”
Go and be chilled to the bone.