Had I watched this even with the lights on, I would not see Lights Out being anything more than just pure mediocrity. Initially I had been turned off from watching Lights Out primarily because I disliked the short film which it was based on, but a few decent comments had me convinced to give the feature-length expansion a shot. To my surprise, I also found Lights Out to be much better than what I would have suspected based on the impression the short film had left me on – but I can’t say that’s saying very much. Like the short film it’s based on, the most fitting short summary I can come up with on the spot was that it’s a pure waste of a concept. I would say I was disappointed but in truth I had a bad feeling it was coming.
The Lights Out short film was a relatively simple horror story, in which we only see a strange entity that only can lunge upon others when it can be seen in the dark. In the light, it can still move around but it cannot be seen nor can it attack. At the very least this could be something interesting when we come to look back upon how it takes the concept of the monster that appears only in the dark when one stays afraid of the concept as a child. For how interesting the idea is, unfortunately it is also what happens to be the film’s biggest downfall.
When expanding a short film to feature length, there at least can be more possibilities to explore with the concept in which the short film had adopted but in the case of Lights Out, it never felt so much like it was interested in any of that and it fell into a trap rather quickly. One of the first of said traps where Lights Out falls into is how it never feels like it is a concept that feels sustained to run for feature-length, but the other trap that comes along is how the fact it never sustains itself enough ends up turning it into a generic ghost story. The latter trap was something to which I had been more afraid of because it killed off the intriguing idea the short film had been running on, even if it isn’t inherently an original idea.
If I were to talk about how generic Lights Out is, one of the first films that came to my mind while it was still going was The Ring, where we have an entity following a certain person around and bringing them to their death but not in that idea, instead in the idea where the monster itself has an odd set of rules that never feel properly established as it seems they are being made up on the spot as it goes. We get the idea that it cannot be seen nor can it attack in the light, but at another point it just started making up these rules (especially towards the climax) and it was from there when tension ended up getting killed off. For an hour and twenty minutes of running time, it was also incredibly tedious given as the pacing can easily be felt together with the fact we can call out the scares that are set to come forth. It became clear why I was getting all the more tired while Lights Out was still going, because with the unearned jump scares together with characters whom we have no reason to feel for only left a feeling of incompletion.
Even with the generic character arcs and plot outline, there still is something good to be found when we are to look at the performances. Teresa Palmer is one who does come to mind, but at the same time we also have Gabriel Bateman in the role of her younger brother. For how much the two of them pull off in their role, Maria Bello is also trying her best playing the haunted mother of her two children and she does a good job. It’s a shame that for how much we can feel the actors putting into these roles, the arcs are just so generic to the point we just don’t care what more happens to them as events unfold.
I was surprised to find that I liked Lights Out much better than I thought at first given my dislike of the short film it was based on, but for every generic beat we also have something impressive that comes along whether it be how specific scares are set up or the performances. But as a whole it can certainly be felt that it cannot seem to sustain a feature-length running time, for it resorts to what we so easily recognize to extend its length. If this lands in a projector, turn the lights out and put on something else. If you’re watching Lights Out, all you’re getting is the same ghost story that you’ve been told so many times when you were a kid that might have made you jump a lot then. Try the effect right now, and it definitely wore off.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Warner Bros.
Directed by David F. Sandberg
Screenplay by Eric Heisserer, from the short film by Sandberg
Produced by Lawrence Grey, Eric Heisserer, James Wan
Starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Billy Burke, Maria Bello
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 81 minutes