David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out currently has a 77 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes — which is more frightening than anything in Lights Out. It’s not that Sandberg’s film is awful. It’s just generally inept, a little dull and not very original. It’s a horror movie predicated on a simple premise: There’s something spooky lurking, literally, in the shadows. And it’s built on cheap scares, stilted dialogue and C-list acting. The things that, alone or in combination, make for a great (or even good) horror movie, such as atmosphere, a sense of fun or something on its mind, are absent here, resulting in a fairly forgettable foray into the world of generic scares.
The premise here is that there’s a malevolent specter hiding in the shadows, one that’s afraid of the light and disappears if, say, you turn on a lamp. It’s a pretty nasty bugger, gangly and with claws, but this is about as much as we see of it since it stays the shadows. Currently, it’s stalking the family of Rebecca (a bland and emotionless Teresa Palmer), scaring her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and getting the attention of her presumably mentally ill mother (Maria Bello). Whatever it is, it’s getting more violent and deadly. And it’s up to Rebecca, of course, to stop it.
Much of the film delves into Rebecca’s childhood and her mother’s condition. However, as an examination of mental illness, the film goes nowhere. Instead, Lights Out fills out its story through clumsy flashbacks, and nothing in the film feels crafted. Most of the movie is shot like a TV show, while none of the actors — save Bello, who’s wasted here — have any amount of gravitas, let alone anything to make them worth caring about. There’s an amount of care put into the film’s scares, even though they’re solely of the bargain-bin variety. Sandberg’s primary concern is to make the audience jump, and, I suppose, within the context of being a “scary movie,” there’s some appeal to this. But it’s also lazy, especially in Sandberg’s hands, giving away any chance of creepiness with a score that telegraphs every beat of the film. Lights Out fails where a film like Insidious (2010) — which exists as much as a fun-house ride as a horror movie — flourishes. There’s no world-building; its mythos is flimsy; and any sense of fun is dragged down by the inane dialogue and wooden performances. Sure, the climax of the film is solid, as Sandberg finally creates a certain amount of tension and raised stakes. But, by the time it decides to ramble on in, it’s too late to care what happens to these cardboard characters. Rated PG-13 for terror throughout, violence including disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content.
Playing at Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher.