What I'm Watching: Ligthts Out
Hello, Triskelions! I am behind on some quicker reviews, but what else is new? Anyways, a few weeks ago, I went and saw Lights Out, and it is definitely worth talking about.
I saw the trailer awhile ago, and it thoroughly captured my imagination. As longtime readers of Trisk know, I have issues with Shadow People (The phenomenon, not the movie. Well, I have issueswith the movie "Shadow People" but that's not what I'm talking about. But I digress!), and when I saw a trailer capturing that idea of a monster that's there when the lights are off, but gone when you flick them off, oh, I was all in. I was also chanting, "Nopenopenope" but I was down for this.
The movie is based on a short film, but there's really no connection. The short film is genuinely good with some solid scares and GREAT tension, but it also ultimately has no story. It's a person getting spooked out, and seeing something in the shadows that keeps coming closer. The short is a simple and effective study in fright, and that's fine for the format, but the ,ovie needed story, and it delivers.
The idea of something getting closer and closer when you're not watching, is far from a new idea. My favourite example is Stephen King's short story, "Sun Dog" about a camera that keeps capturing a dog that's not there, but coming closer and closer with each new Polaroid. Lights Out plays with the same basic themes of horror and psychology, but does it in its own way.
The movie centers around Rebecca and her family. Her mom has a history of psychological issues, and has been in and out of institutions since her childhood. These issues eventually drove Rebecca out of their home to go her own way. She's done okay for herself, but now thesame problems are coming down on her half brother, Martin.
Around the house, Martin has been having sleep issues, due to hearing and seeing monsters lurking in the dark; a monster her mother calls Diana, and seems to be on good terms with. Rebecca finds out about his terrible time at home, and takes him in. When he tells her about Diana, she has vague memories of hearing that name before, from her own youth. This sends Rebecca on a quest to find out just what's going on.
It's not long before Rebecca runs afoul of the monster lurking in the dark herself, and discovers this horror is all too real.
But that's more than enough plot. How's the movie? I'm not gonna beat around the bush, I loved this movie. Diana is a compelling creature, and sure, I may just be saying that because I'm a sucker for shadow creatures.
The movie has a number of good gags with the lights on/lights off gimmick, and they almost all really work. The biggest shame is, they show all the best ones in the trailer. They're still REALLY good on the large screen, and it had been awhile since I'd seen the trailer, so they were faded from memory, and even more effective. If you haven't seen the trailer, don't. Just go see the movie. Take the scares in context.
The characters are also refreshingly well crafted. Rebecca is a complex character with a Tragic Backstory with her mother, and she has plenty of conflict there, and with her boyfriend, and she feels like one of the more real people I've seen in a horror movie. She's not easily pidgeon holed into a stereotype, and Teresa Palmer brings a lot to the character, bringing to life her kindness and coldness she has towards relationships. Maria Bello comes off very well as the unstable Sophie, who is trying SO HARD to love her family, AND be with her best friend, and is as much a victim as anyone else in this movie. She's been used by Diana for much of her life, and all she wants is to make herself better, or to get everyone to accept her best friend monster under the bed.
And we are about to get into spoiler time, because I need to talk about a few scenes, and Diana's backstory. The single best gag in the whole movie, is when Diana is tossing around Rebecca's boyfriend. She has him easily hoisted above her head, and is about to fling him into a wall. They're outside during this, and his car is right there. He grabs his key fob, and turns on the lights. Diana blinks out of sight, as she does, and the guy PLUMMETS with the most satisfying thud to the driveway. I practically freaking cheered in the theatre. If you're gonna do a movie with a monster that goes poof in the light, THAT is the kinda thing you need to do. It was great, and *exactly* what I wanted to see from this movie.
Diana's story is also good, and tragic in its way. She was a childhood friend with Rebecca and Martin's mother, in the same institution as kids, but she had a special condition that made her sensitive to light. The doctors experimented on her, and eventually she went poof, and they killed her. But she somehow survived, connected to the mother, and always trying to manipulate her from beyond the grave. When the mom is properly medicated, the creature had no hold over her, but would encourage her, whispering in her ear, to stop taking the pills. And also having this broken, childlike creature, and all she wanted was a friend, is a good idea. It gives her reasons for what she does, and makes her killing Sophie's family members understandable from a twisted, childlike, "She's MY friend, go AWAY!!" sense.
I've seen people talking about other ideas for this, things they would've done better, and there's a number of good ideas floating out there. I quite enjoyed the story we were presented, but the alternate takes are just as good. For myself, I almost wanted her to NOT be a dead, supernatural creature. I thought they were going this way, and I think they almost ALMOST! did this; I wanted to see her be a creation of science. What I wanted was for the experiments not to kill her and make her an angry ghost, but they made her condition WORSE, and she disappeared. They thought she was dead when the flash burned her silhouette into the chair she was strapped to, but instead of death, they could have just made her invisible in normal light, only visible when there was no light shining on her, almost a modern day twist on HG Wells' The Invisible Man. A more science-based horror creature would've been great in this day of supernatural monsters. But like I said, I still like what we were given.
That would've ruined my favourite gag I mentioned earlier, but having that moment be a reveal where she's still THERE when the lights are on, but still able to interact with the world, as the boyfriend seemingly floats in the air before being hurled against the wall? Would have been JUST as awesome and effective, in my opinion.
Lights Out is not without it's problems. The story is pretty straightforward, if well told, and I like the way its investigated and unfolds. It DOES have a kid in it, although he's far from an annoying one. But the movie is enjoyable, and fun, and while it may not be the best, most revolutionary horror movie out there, it does what it does very well, and is a good ride and bit of entertainment.
Overall, this was a solid story, with some great tension and scares, even if the best ones were all in the trailer. The creature is compelling with actual reasons for her actions beyond just, "LOL evil!" and it was just an enjoyable time. As usual, I will always try and support new ideas not based on any existing property, and even though this is based on a short, it still qualifies. It's not trying to ride on an existing monster or property, and this is exactly the sort of solid horror movies we need more of. This is an easy recommendation to fans of horror, and if you liked the short film, this captures a lot of that same effective magic, and brings some much needed story to the idea.