Stalked by a demon that only appears in the dark, Rebecca (Palmer) uncovers a queasy conspiracy that leads back to her cranky mother, an imaginary “friend” and a deeply toxic family secret
Everybody’s done it. You wake up, see a figure in the dark, turn on the light and the figure disappears. David F. Sandberg’s horror takes that universal mind-trick and asks: what if that figure was actually there? Already yelped at by millions on-line, Lights Out started life as a viral YouTube short – the shock here is that Sandberg’s expanded a three-minute nano-horror into a brilliantly sustained sense-attack that torches the nerves for 80 ruthless minutes.
Although influenced by J-horror and the slow-creep style of producer James Wan, Lights Out is arguably this year’s Babadook: there’s a memorable monster, peekaboo scares, but, crucially, a spiky emotional turmoil that feeds the fear. Led by Teresa Palmer, the family under siege are a dysfunctional bunch damaged by grief and madness. That turbulence manifests itself in the form of a shadow-dwelling spirit calling itself Diana – a lurking silhouette with glowing eyes, Nosferatu nails and a punishing back-story to justify the malevolence.
A deeply impressive debut that delivers full-blooded frights with barely a pipette of gore.
Relying on practical FX and ominous lighting design, Sandberg has a fiendish gift for ambushing audiences with jump-scares (we counted at least nine legit jolts) – as she stripes from dark to light, Diana’s attacks are like being subjected to a slow-motion strobe. That takes serious technical mastery, but jumps are just a hollow gimmick without dramatic context: ultimately, it’s Sandberg’s human touch that lifts Lights Out. All of his characters are battling internal demons but they’re likable too: the fact you’re rooting for them rather than cheering on Diana makes the ordeal cut all the harder.
Granted, some of the dread leaks out when things get silly in a frantic third act, but this is a deeply impressive debut that delivers full-blooded frights with barely a pipette of gore. Like the best horrors, it flickers in the mind long after the lights come up.
A lean, mean scare-machine, and a surprise contender for horror of the year. Seek it out. Then, for God’s sake, buy a bedside lamp.