When Swedish Director David F.Sandberg made a no budget 3 minute short film called Lights Out back in 2013, little did he realise the impact it would have. Having become a huge hit online, the short garnered the attention of Hollywood producer Lawrence Grey who assisted Sandberg to develop the basic premise into this impressive debut feature. Released through horror maestro James Wan’s production company Atomic Pictures, the result is a smart and satisfying fright fest where the scares are complimented by strong storytelling and well developed characters. It also has a truly terrifying villain at it’s core who is certain to become a hit with seasoned horror fans.
The film offers a neat twist on the family in peril story line that has formed the basis of an array of horror flicks (From The Exorcist through to The Witch). In many of these films, children are the target for supernatural forces. In Lights Out, it is the mother of the family, Sophie (Maria Bello), that is haunted. Her nemesis is a powerful, evil entity named Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey), who only ever appears in the dark. A nerve shredding opening sequence sets the tone of the film and underlines the danger posed by Diana. As the film progresses, Sophie’s children Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) begin to realise that their mother is being controlled and bid to rescue her from the malevolent presence before their family unit is destroyed.
What elevates this above your average horror yarn is the compelling family drama at the heart of the film and it’s interesting thematic concerns. Diana’s influence on Sophie is a thinly veiled allegory for mental illness. Director Sandberg and star Bello have both spoken openly about their own battles with depression and for the most part, the film tackles the subject with skill and sensitivity. The film’s ending has been criticised though and while it leaves itself open to interpretation, the overall impact is unsettling and haunting. The characters are likeable and well rounded. You become invested in their plight and the scares are more effective because of this. Bello is marvellous and beautifully captures the torturous impact of her character’s paranormal affliction, coupled with her struggle to function as a loving mother. The rest of the cast are rock solid as well with Bateman and Palmer delivering emotionally involving performances and strong support is provided by Alexander DiPersia as Rebecca’s loyal boyfriend Brett. The film is also genuinely frightening. Diana is an inspired and brilliantly realised horror film villain. Sandberg makes sure that his creation is used effectively. Each appearance is peppered with a sense of foreboding and menace. There’s a plethora of spine tingling sequences and the jump scares are executed perfectly. The film taps into our primal fear of the dark and while there’s nothing especially original about the approach, established genre tropes and cliches are utilised to excellent effect.
With a sequel already announced, this could be the launch point for another successful horror franchise. Saw, The Conjuring and Insidious have already established Wan as the modern master of horror. Lights Out is another welcome addition to his ever expanding universe. He has found a like minded director in Sandberg, who is already attached to direct the sequel as well as the follow up to Annabelle. So horror fans can rejoice there’s plenty more to come from Wan, Sandberg and the nefarious Diana. On the evidence of Lights Out, this can only be a good thing.