Based on his nightmarish short of the same name, David F Sandberg’s feature-length debut Lights Out takes its strong premise and has a devilish amount of fun with it. An inventive horror with a series of tense set pieces, it’s a contender for best mainstream genre release of the year.
Kicking off with a recreation of the short film transported to a mannequin-filled warehouse, we’re soon introduced to Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who is estranged from her mentally ill mother Sophie (Maria Bello) following a traumatic childhood. However, when the same entity that haunted her starts to trouble her stepbrother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), she returns home to solve the mystery.
Anyone concerned that the short’s premise of a demon that only appears in the dark might feel stretched at feature-length need not be. Sandberg and screenwriter Eric Heisserer utilise everything from neon signs to candles in order to craft genuinely nail-biting, and often witty, sequences.
Producer James Wan has clearly had an influence, because though there are jump scares, they often serve as a release to the tension rather than a cheap gimmick. The film’s stand-out sequence comes as a power cut hits (naturally), leaving our characters to fumble around for anything to keep the entity named Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) at bay.
Most pleasingly, the performances are uniformly excellent, helped by characters who aren’t your typical horror stereotypes. An endearing Alexander DiPersia in particular is a delight as Rebecca’s well-meaning boyfriend, while Bello does great work in selling the film’s exploration of depression.
For some, its ending might be a sticking point, yet aided by the believable family unit created by Bello, Palmer and Bateman, it packs an emotional punch.
But what makes Lights Out so terrifyingly effective is that it takes full advantage of that primal fear of the dark that almost everybody has felt at some point in their lives. And this time, there really is something under your bed.