Review: Lights Out (Fantasia Review)
REVIEW: One of the cool things about the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal is how broad the genre flicks they present wind-up being. While it would be tempting to say that the Fantasia crowd is mostly fed higher-brow horror (THE WAILING, UNDER THE SHADOW) along with the occasional curio like THE GREASY STRANGLER, the odd mainstream genre film is indeed sprinkled in, with one of the fests big premieres this year being the studio-horror outing, LIGHTS OUT.
Spun-off from director David Sanbergs viral short, LIGHTS OUT is a pretty clear-cut stab by Warner Bros/New Line at slurping-up some late-summer bucks from underfed teen horror audiences, with them having not had much to chew-on since James Wans THE CONJURING 2 hit theaters. Its no coincidence that trailers for the PG-13 LIGHTS OUT were attached to all the prints of that movie, with Wan himself being one of the producers.
Modestly budgeted at under five million dollars and running a scant seventy-nine minutes (making this one of the shortest mainstream studio releases of all time), LIGHTS OUT more than delivered the goods for the Fantasia audience, who screamed and cheered throughout, along with the odd bit of enthusiastic meowing (dont ask its a Fantasia thing). While not especially original or disciplined, Sanbergs film is an effective genre romp that plays on a gimmick we all can relate to fear of the dark.
Here, heroine Teresa Palmers mother and brother are being plagued by a spirit who only has power as long as shes shrouded by darkness. The two-fold benefit for the filmmakers is that they can rely on tons of cheap jump scares, which never fail to work on a particular kind of audience, while also never really having to spend much money on CGI for the baddie, as the creature, by necessity, only really exists in the dark.
Make no mistake, LIGHTS OUT is thoroughly predictable and often quite dumb, with supporting characters like Palmers boyfriend (a too-nice rocker played by Alexander DiPersia) standing-in as a surrogate for some of the slower audience members, repeating exposition over-and-over again just so that the less swift viewers will be able to keep-up.
Luckily, the movie is grounded somewhat by Palmer. While probably a little too mature for the part (shes supposed to basically be playing a teen runaway), her affection for her younger brother (Gabriel Bateman in a better-than-average performance for a kid actor) is believable. Likewise, Maria Bello is a far better actress than movies like this usually get, and she manages to make what could have been a one-note part relatively three-dimensional as far as these things go.
Despite all this, LIGHTS OUT does go off-the-rails in the third act, with all the characters behaving a little too moronically, with them duh forgetting to buy decent flashlights when going to confront a monster thats afraid of the light. While failing candles and dying iPhone flashlights can be relied-upon to give the movie a tiny bit of suspense, it all becomes a little tough-to-swallow, although the virtue of it being so short means that by the time you realize how stupid it is, the thing is over.
While certainly not something Id ever revisit, watching LIGHTS OUT with a fun crowd, such as the one at Fantasia, makes this a relatively decent genre outing. Still, its very standard fare from a mainstream studio that seems quite risk-adverse with the horror films theyre churning out (its a shame as the same studio produced THE SHINING, THE DEVILS and THE EXORCIST way back when). Its a whole lot better than other micro-budget outings like ANNABELLE and THE GALLOWS, but its also quite disposable making this only a marginal recommendation for major horror fanatics.