The Lights Are On for the James Wan Produced ‘Lights Out’
In 2013, David Sandburg, an unknown indie director from Sweden, along with his wife Lotta, put together a great little horror short titled “Lights Out”, to enter in a contest. The wonderfully scary short (which you can watch below) runs less than three minutes and has managed to continuously scare the pants of everyone that watches it, a number that is now over 2 Million views.
The short did so well it was noticed by movie producer Lawrence Grey. Grey loved it so much that he backed it, got the cast, made the deal with Warner Bros. and got James Wan attached to it. The full length feature will be in theaters everywhere on July 22. I got to see it at the LA Film Festival and was pleased to find that I loved it. Maybe not my favorite film this summer, but I loved it none the less.
Sometimes when you take something small and try to make it into something bigger, it doesn’t always go well. In this case, I think audiences are going to love Lights Out and that it will be this summer’s sleeper hit. Definitely a date night kind of horror flick.
The film is based on a simple premise, one that we all felt at least a little while growing up — our fear of the dark… and what’s in it. One of our most basic technologies, light, is something we need in this horror movie to stay safe. In Lights Out, they give us a taste of what is in the dark — and it is totally as scary as we thought it would be.
What made the original short such a hit, I think, was its simplicity. The dark is scary, and if we can’t keep the lights on something bad will be there. Making that into a longer movie took some creative writing, but I think screenplay writer Eric Heisserer did a great job alongside David Sandburg, who got to go big time and direct the full-length version of his short film. At the LA Film Fest, Sandburg was very humble and still a bit unbelieving that this all happened so fast.
So without giving too much away about the story, what can I tell you? The movie starts out by using the same effect that worked in the short. Set in a factory at night, the boss Paul (played by Billy Burke, for a really quick few minutes) sees a figure in the shadows far away. Lights on- lights out, figure closer, lights on- lights out, figure in your face and lights on, well let’s just say it wasn’t a good closing time for him.
After Paul dies, we find out a little more about the entity that lives in the dark with his family. His son Martin rarely sleeps because of the problems he has at night. His mother is busy talking to her friend Dian, (Alicia Vela-Bailey), who lives in her dark closet, and his sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) has moved away. Rebecca left home because of the same scary and unexplainable things that are now happening to her brother. While growing up, she was never really sure of what was and wasn’t real when the lights went out… and now her little brother, Martin, is experiencing the same terrifying events that had once tested her sanity and threatened her safety.
A frightening entity with a mysterious attachment to their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), has returned and doesn’t want them around. As Rebecca gets closer to unlocking the truth, there is no denying that all their lives are in danger… once the lights go out.
Overall, the movie works well. For me, being the horror junkie that I am, it could have been scarier. But I jumped quite a few times and loved the dynamics between all the characters. I believed them! It had a lot of very campy and funny scenes. Whether every time it was intended to be funny, I’m not sure, but I found myself laughing quite a bit. That is actually a good thing for me, at a horror movie. Very little scares me, but I can be startled into screaming every time! When tension builds up to a good jump scare, following it up with laughter works great!
I thought all the acting was superbly done, especially with our youngest star, Gabriel Bateman, (previously seen in Annabelle) who plays Martin. He really came off believably tense and scared, not just “acting” like he was. Alexander DiPersia was equally good as Rebecca’s not too bright, but gorgeous boyfriend, Bret. He brings a sweet romantic edge to the thriller and gives us one of the funniest scenes using car headlights. (You’ll know it when you see it!)
One of the best parts of the movie is the use of light. Of course, if a movie with the word ‘lights’ in the title didn’t have super cool lighting, there would be a problem. Director David Sandburg used as little CGI as he possibly could, and many scenes are lit only with fluorescent tubes, candlelight or whatever ambient lighting there really would be. There were lots of shadows, so the thing lurking in the house could be in any of them, even during the day. Lightbulbs flickering, dark closets and corners, flashlights that never quite work, curtains drawn and (of course) a basement to get stuck in with a ghost that can turn off lights.
Another thing that worked also goes back to simplicity — if there is something bad in the dark, how many ways, using practical items, can we use to stay out of the darkness? Sandburg and Heisserer came up with a lot of clever lighting sources!
One question that always bothers me about these kind of movies is this: Do monsters only inhabit super cool old houses? We hardly ever see little regular boring stucco houses in horror movies, just big amazing Victorian homes — or in this case a huge beautiful Craftsman style house. Just wondering.
Without spoilers, Lights Out has a great twist ending… one you can kinda see coming, but not completely. I wouldn’t have minded the end going another way, but it worked and made sense. So right there it is better than half the horror movie endings out there. I recommend Lights Out as a fun, horror thriller. Not the deepest or scariest or longest horror film you will ever go to, but go see it for a fun night at the movies. You may want to leave your lights on when you get home!