“Lights Out” (2016) Directed by David F. Sandberg. Starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman and Maria Bello. An estranged mother and daughter are haunted by a murderous entity from their past that fears the light, and grows frighteningly powerful in the dark.
In the opening scene of “Lights Out,” the big screen adaptation of Sandberg’s 2013 short film of the same name, two textile plant employees are attacked by a shadowy figure; it was lurking in pools of darkness between the radius of overhead lights. It appears to be a nude woman with freakishly long fingers and silvery eyes that glow in the dim light. And it really enjoys poking people’s eyes out after breaking their bones with its superhuman strength.
Enter Rebecca, a vaguely Goth babe who ran away from her suburban home after dealing with her mother Sophie’s mental health issues for years. She now lives in an apartment in the city and dates a gentle rock band member who has fallen for her completely, though her commitment issues keep him at arm’s length. After her stepfather is mysteriously freed from the burden of having eyeballs and being alive, and her younger brother is attacked in the dark by a strange woman, it’s time for Rebecca to go back home again and face her mother.
After all, Sophie spends most of her time chatting with the woman in the many dark rooms of her home. And everything seems to lead back to Diana; a disturbed girl Sophie knew as a child.
Diana had a painful skin condition that caused light to irritate her skin. She also had the ability to influence the way another person thinks and warp their minds. Like addiction, she could get under your skin and twist you into someone you aren’t, destroy your relationships and constantly vying for your attention, all to distract you from the concerns of your loved ones.
After a bizarre experiment in a mental institution to “cure” Diana of her aversion to light, she became something even scarier. Now completely invisible in all but ultraviolet light and darkness, Diana begins killing off Sophie’s family so she and her best pal can be together forever, undisturbed.
Well, maybe a little disturbed.
“Lights Out” plays with light and dark in amusing ways. Although Diana can’t be seen, nor kill anyone in the light, she’s always there, like a submerged shark. And as the flashlight batteries die or the smart phone illumination falters, you have to ask yourself: “Where is she right now?”
In one scene, Rebecca is expecting a delivery. There’s a knock on her apartment door and she pulls it open to find nothing but her brightly lit hallway. As threatening noises suddenly emanate from a back room of the apartment, where its dark, we know that the creature slipped past Rebecca and entered the joint. Even in an empty hall, there’s an expectation of fear.
The bright muzzle flashes from a police officer’s gun cause Diana to vanish and then reappear in rapid fire beats, turning her enraged charge forward into a stop motion nightmare.
A potential victim lifted into the air by the shadowy ghoul on a dark street turns on his car’s headlights with a key fob and drops six feet to the pavement as Diana instantly flees.
Rebecca, her family and her boyfriend do a whole slew of very idiotic things, especially towards the end.
You have to put aside the question, “Why are they heading to the pitch black basement in the middle of a power outage?” and ignore the less than stellar creature design that robs Diana of her mystique once she finally steps into the light.
In darkness, with her constantly fluttering hands, her furious primal shriek and her unreadable silver eyes watching you, she cuts a very impressive, original and threatening figure. But once you see the rather generic monster visage she sports, you realize that some things are better left to the imagination.
Rather than simply dismissing her as a ghost, there is some question as to what Diana actually is. She cannot pass through solid objects like doors, nor fall out of your television set, nor magically teleport right behind you like most spirits can in these types of flicks. She has to walk or run just like the rest of us, and she also appears to sleep.
A huge piece of the puzzle is discovered late in the film pointing toward my theory that she may still be a human augmented by the experiment she underwent, and that her body no longer corresponds to the visible spectrum.
Whatever the answer, it is left unresolved.
There are a couple funny lines and some much more unintentionally hilarious bits, such as when Rebecca finally asks Sophie about the big, light-hating family secret. After learning that Diana was actually a real person after years of believing her mentally ill mother made the girl up, Rebecca and her brother are attacked and nearly killed by the angry creature.
“Mom, we should talk.” Rebecca said calmly and casually.
Um, ya THINK?!
Though not without its flaws, “Lights Out” is pure horror fun loaded with nifty effects and solid performances from lovely “Warm Bodies” star Teresa Palmer, Maria Bello and child actor Gabriel Bateman. It taps into a fear that is universal. Most of us, as children or adults, have stood at the doorway of a dark room and imagined reaching in for the light switch only to have our hand seized by something unseen, a certain sinister creature determined to drag us into the black unknown far from the familiarity and protection of the illuminated world.