David F. Sandberg’s directorial debut (an expansion of his original short) is a good movie, but not necessarily a good horror film. The premise is great as it preys on the very primal fear of the dark every human suffers at one point or another. The film is shot beautifully as it chooses to play color and lighting in a very inventive way. Like any horror film nowadays, Lights Out does contain jump scares, but they’re well conducted by Sandberg who knows when to use a jump scare, unfortunately because of the nature of the scare its not very haunting at all and it loses its flare after the unexpected jolt occurs. A fault that leads to the film not being that scary as its very repetitive and gimmicky.
The scare is initially frightening and Sandberg tries to find every way to keep it fresh, but after seventy minutes of the same thing, Lights Out does become tiresome and uninteresting in regards to its horror chops. Luckily, Lights Out has something else going for it, as it pairs a tragic under-current alongside the demonic shrieks. Behind the entity in the forefront, there are well-written characters, visually compelling sequences and a genuinely well presented parable for mental illness.
Whilst most transitions from short films to feature length films aren’t the best, what Sandberg and Heisserer were able to do with such a limited premise is quite impressive. Sure, the movie might be riddled with cliches and jump-scares, but it is the story about mental illness and the overlapping mystery that drives this film forward.
As for the acting, its all surprisingly above the usual standards beset by low-budget horror films. The characterizations are well executed by everyone involved, each character is resourceful and presents a different perspective on what’s really going on. Even what would usually have the throw-away boyfriend character in this film is good. And I shouldn’t forget the main kid played by Gabriel Bateman who is phenomenal.
Lights Out is a serviceable horror film, but a good movie. It tackles mental illness in a very unique way, balancing strong characters and performances that move the plot forward in a way that feels naturally progressive. Its horror tropes do hold it down from being a great film, but they work and help Lights Out surface above the mediocre horror movie trash that is often released around this time of the year.