Taking inspiration from the online short film by the same director which went viral, the big screen debut of David F. Sandburg delves into one of our most primal fears - the dark - and crafts a film that's big on jumps. But is it truly scary? A family torn to shreds, some of them literally, by a combination of mental illness and the supernatural, have to come together to combat a menacing ghostly figure attached to Mum (or Mom, as it's American). Can estranged older daughter Rebecca put aside the trauma of her past to help her little brother, a child caught between a mother struggling to keep her head and the demonic presence of her friend, Diana?
As a short film, Lights Out was perfect. At just 3 minutes, it took our fear of the dark and reminded us of how we all felt at some point as a child who believed in monsters and wanted the landing light left on. In fairness, the feature-length version does a pretty decent job of stretching this out, setting out its store in a terrifying opening which reflects the short's effectiveness. The characters are nicely realised, the set-ups work, and the performances are endearing. Refreshingly, it reveals some of its secrets early on, leaving us in little doubt about what Diana is up to and the fact that Mom is the key to the whole shadowy puzzle.
As horror film monsters go, Diana certainly delivers, even if her name falls short of shivering the spine. Early glimpses of her are bloody creepy. She exists only in the dark and the filmmakers cleverly make us fear every dark area of the frame as the film progresses, making us convinced that she's going to leap out of every shadow at any minute. It draws to mind both The Babadook and It Follows in its sense of menace. But Lights Out isn't as effective as either of those films. Diana lacks the motivation to explain why exactly she's got it in for her friend's family, and the filmmakers rely too much on loud bangs and sudden bursts of shrieking music to make us jump. There could have been a little more tying up at the end – how will they explain THAT to the police? Also, the connection with mental health issues and the supernatural is dubious to say the least.
Still, jump we do, and there are enough of them to make Lights Out a worthwhile watch. It won't linger in the mind for too long like great horror does, but you may want to leave that landing light on for a night or two... just in case.
LIGHTS OUT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID F. SANDBERG / SCREENPLAY: ERIC HEISSERER / STARRING: TERESA PALMER, GABRIEL BATEMAN, MARIA BELLO, ALEXANDER DIPERSIA / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 12TH