Monday, July 25, 2016

[Review] Lights Out

Considering how an audience member literally died during a recent screening of The Conjuring 2, I'm afraid to find out how many people might kick the bucket during Lights Out. In other words, if you're a fan of the thrill from abrasive jump scares, then David F. Sandberg's debut feature is one to see.

It begins with a late night at the office, and the manager Paul (Billy Burke) abruptly gets murked by a pitch-black spirit who we will come to know as Diana. Flash-forward and we meet Paul's surviving wife Sophie (Maria Bello) as she down-spirals into psychosis (she has ominous chats with Diana), along with their insomniac son Martin (Gabriel Bateman). Martin's older sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) becomes his unofficial guardian, and they try to figure out what the hell the deal is with Diana.

That petrifying intro sequence lets us know that Diana is not only a very physical presence--she's frickin' lethal. The creepy entity possesses the lurching demeanor of those Yurei ghosts from Japanese horror films like Ringu (the ghoul from 2013's Mama also comes to mind), and she thrives in the shadows and disappears in the light. Oh yeah, and she has some really wicked, scratchy nails that I might as well call claws. Anxiety builds with the slow-gliding camerawork and the uneasy peaks through cracked doorways, then the jump scares land with jolting imagery and blaring horns. There's also a lot of nifty craft with the 'electricity on/electricity off' concept, as the characters struggle to achieve sources of light. At one point, Rebecca's smug Avenged Sevenfold-ass boyfriend gets caught in a dark room and whips out his cell phone in a desperate attempt to ward off Diana.

The story's themes of familial dynamics and coping with grief, trauma, and mental illness were more artfully explored in 2014's Australian horror masterpiece The Babadook, but we at least care about the well-being of the characters (actually, probably not Rebecca's boyfriend--he can be taken or left), as opposed to some of the other less-than-savory mainstream horror efforts that enter theaters nowadays. It also helps that the acting here is surprisingly solid. Teresa Palmer is particularly impressive, delivering an assertive and convincing performance that is actually quite reminiscent of Blake Lively's commendable turn in this year's summer shark hit The Shallows.

Even though some people will write off the shock tactics as a cheap gimmick, and while The Conjuring 2 is the better overall film, Lights Out still successfully taps into the prevalent fear of darkness, and it reminds us why we love (or hate) to watch horror flicks with, well--the lights out.

( 7.5/10 )

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