Teresa Palmer plays Rebecca, who deliberately left behind her mentally unstable mother Sophie (Maria Bello) and younger brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman), to escape from the hauntings that destroyed her childhood. She was the victim of a malevolent force that is only a danger in the dark, hiding in the shadows, thriving in houses with the lights turned off. Though wanting to forget about her past, when Martin starts seeing the very same woman, she feels an obligation to face up to her fears and attempt to overcome this nefarious creature. With her sort-of-boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) lending a hand, they realise that it’s not going to be nearly as straightforward as they had envisaged, needing to unlock the mind of Sophie to try and defeat what’s inside of it.
Lights Out does what so few horror movies nowadays seem to, which is to thrive off the notion of simplicity, which is refreshing to see. There’s this frustrating obligation at present to follow a convoluted narrative, when if you look at the majority of genre-defining horrors, it’s the sense of simplicity that makes for such absorbing cinema, just like The Blair Witch Project, for instance. Lights Out also plays on a perennial, instinctive fear so many of us have had (and still have) of being afraid of the dark. This notion is enhanced by the clever camerawork, as the way lighting is used allows for darkness to exist in almost every single scene, creeping behind the characters, even in the daytime, with a resourceful use of shadows, just reminding us it’s always there, it’s always a threat.
Sandberg also attempts to steep his tale in a rich sense of realism, relating the character’s situation to the real world through the theme of mental illness. Much like The Babadook managed, the director evokes tropes of the horror genre through Sophie’s volatile state of mind, playing with the audience’s perceptions, as a wonderful device that grounds the supernatural so well. However while the Australian picture used that theme in triumphant, metaphorical sense, Lights Out can be accused of being somewhat irresponsible with it, as a depiction that while for the most part is affecting and profound, has a rather controversial means of closure.
So while narratively there is no denying this production is a flawed one, what is does deliver on is scares, as a film that is likely to terrify anybody who stumbles across it, with several intense, nail-biting set-pieces that make for truly indelible cinema. But after seeing this film, just be warned, there’s a very strong chance your electricity bills won’t ever be so low again.