31 Days of Reviews: Lights Out (2016)

After leaving home in an attempt to escape her childhood fear and sorrow, Rebecca finds herself returning to help her brother Martin, who is experiencing the same unexplainable terrors. What really happens when the lights go out?

I was incredibly excited to hear that Lights Out, originally a short film under 3 minutes, was going to become a feature length film. As a filmmaker myself, the thought of a short film getting picked up on such a broad scale is completely amazing. It gives me hope. In any case, the trailers and teasers seemed really promising, and the film was being produced by James Wan (one of my favorites), so I was completely willing to give Lights Out a try.

I’ll start off by very briefly saying that I definitely was not disappointed by the scares in the film. Lights Out definitely has a lot of in your face thrills and tension that never lets up until the end. At first, I was taken aback by how there was no lead up. The film just drops you in the middle of everything. As the film progressed, I started to really appreciate it. I’ll continue more on this later.

One thing that I was very disappointed about with Lights Out was how it handled its subtext. Just like the in your face thrills, Lights Out is also really obvious in being an allegory for depression. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the issues in the film were resolved differently.

In brief, Lights Out has a lot of subtext related to depression that may be triggering for someone who has depression. If interested in further explanation, scroll to the section in asterisks below the trailer.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 12.08.10 AM

Lights Out stars Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies and the remake of Point Break) as the main character Rebecca. I thought she did a good job of selling the premise. Other key characters are Rebecca’s brother Martin, played by Gabriel Bateman (Annabelle), and Rebecca’s mother Sophie, played by Maria Bello. There are brief roles from Billy Burke (Twilight) and Lotta Losten, star of the original short film and wife of director David Sandberg. I was also impressed by Alexander DiPersia, who plays Rebecca’s “boyfriend” Bret. I had absolutely no trouble believing him in his role.

Now, I mentioned earlier that while I was taken aback by how quickly Lights Out jumps into the scares, I grew to really appreciate it. This is because of the fact that the level of tension never faltered throughout the entire movie. The editor did a fantastic job of keeping the stakes really high throughout. There are really good jump scares, and the whole movie has this atmosphere that made me have a broad range of reactions. At one point, I completely froze in fear, and at another point, I slammed both of my hands down on the drinks on either side of me because I was startled. It was either one or the other. There was no in between.

I never had the chance to slink down in my chair like I usually do while watching horror movies in theaters. The scares aren’t really drawn out like that. Where some movies will have a good lead up to the scare, Lights Out kind of just throws it out there and lets you look at it in all of its messed up glory. It really is messed up. It follows my formula of what makes a really creepy image (looks like x, but moves like y). The way the villain moves and sounds is just odd enough to really stick out. It’s reminiscent of the witches in the video game Left 4 Dead.

Lights Out is relatively short, sitting at about 80 minutes. Personally, I felt that length was just right because I have no idea how they would have pushed it any longer. I have seen some negative reviews saying that it was boring, but overall, it’s got decently positive reviews. Other than the subtext I mentioned being disappointed by, I really did enjoy the movie. It’s a fun thrill ride.

Check out the trailer below to see if Lights Out is a movie for you!

********SPOILERS BELOW THE ASTERISKS************************************************************

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Throughout Lights Out, the characters don’t shy away from the fact that their mother spent time in a mental hospital during her youth. They say that she was in the hospital because of her depression. There are many times where characters refer to her using derogatory terms and ableist slurs. As the movie progresses, it becomes more and more clear that not only is the paranormal entity attached to their mother, but it’s also directly related to her depression, showing up when she’s at her lowest of lows. In the end, this leads to the manifestation of depression harming the people around her, and the only way for her to “save their lives” is to end her own.

This does nothing to aid in the understanding of depression, and in many ways, it hurts the understanding by making it appear that suicide is the only answer to end the suffering of the person with depression and the people they love. I thought it was very insensitive. It really isn’t a great message.

Of course, the depression subtext could have been entirely unintentional, similar to how It Follows‘ subtext about STDs was apparently unintentional. This won’t stop an audience from interpreting Lights Out in the way that I have just described. To me, it was a very obvious interpretation.

I do feel that this is an important issue to bring up because of the fact that it does enforce a very harmful message about mental illness and depression. It’s something that people should be aware of, especially if they will be affected by the portrayal in a negative way.

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