Given that the premise is basically structured around one scare (a ghost that can only move in darkness) the film has a limited toolbox to work from. Sure enough, set pieces act like a check list of the different types of lights you can think of. Unlucky people find themselves at the mercy of sensor lights, UV bulbs, flickering candles etc. All of these set ups do their creepy job and if they feel contrived it’s in a good way. Seeing a neon sign rhythmically flickering outside someone’s window is to this movie what seeing a bustling kitchen is to a Jackie Chan caper. If the idea is limited in scope it’s milked very well over the movie’s brisk eighty minute run time.
Even done in a heavy handed way, making this story into a metaphor is actually a strength of the film. Sure, ‘ghost that is hurt by light’ may not feel like an organic expression of insanity but by, at least, trying to give us some thematic meat to chew over the screenplay also helps us to care about the characters. The problem is that if this is a fable the third act leaves us with a message that is, at bare minimum, troubling. In view of the fact that spoilers are a mortal sin I won’t say any more other than hopefully the moral of the story is unintentional.
Ultimately Lights Out is a solid, frightening experience and one with ambition. Everything might not totally work but the scares do. The ghostly antagonist alternates between looming, unnaturally still, in dark recesses and skittering, J-Horror style, at the next poor bastard to have a bulb blow. Explicitly basing a movie around our specie’s fear of the dark isn’t a new move but Sandberg knows how to land these moments. Hopefully helming the upcoming Annabelle sequel doesn’t ruin him.
Lights Out is in cinemas now. Check out the trailer below.
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