Director David F. Sandberg brings his acclaimed 2013 short of the same name to the big screen with just enough inventive vigour and primal exploitation to overcome its more familiar genre trappings. Lights Out may not be a classic, but thanks to strong performances and a keen style, it gets the job done.
A young woman named Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) finds herself reunited with her estranged family when a dangerous supernatural presence threatens them, one which can only appear in the darkness and has a deep bond with her mother, Sophie (Maria Bello).
This is a film that refreshingly has complete respect for the audience’s time; it barely clocks in at 75 minutes without credits and dives immediately into its simply elegant premise. Sandberg’s unexpectedly artful shot selections combine with Marc Spicer’s sharp cinematography to make the most of what’s ultimately a fairly basic bag of tricks; as ever, execution accounts for a lot in the horror genre. In this instance, it amounts to making an absurd scenario much more grounded and plausible.
Preying on something so universally, elementally feared in essence leaves audiences in the palm of Sandberg’s hand, and though the film is certainly not without its missteps when it descends into trite jump scare territory as well as some fairly formulaic scenes of revelation, it does tap effectively into the anxieties of our collective lizard brains.
There are definitely a few silly moments and those where it appears to betray its own logic, and the exposition could’ve been toned down (less is definitely more here), but the strong style is augmented by Palmer, who has suffered through so many dud blockbuster roles and finally, deservedly finds something befitting her talents. She’s likable yet has enough attitude not to be a dull archetype, while everyone else, from Maria Bello to Alexander DiPersia as Rebecca’s surprisingly resourceful boyfriend, also turn in good work here.
Above all else, it effectively exploits its central conceit even when you may not care much for the logic or the explanation, and still finds room to arrive at a satisfying climax. You might not be super-psyched for the inevitable sequel, but at least it’s a concept with a fair amount of potential mileage.
Lights Out is in US cinemas now and UK cinemas August 19th