In 2013 David F. Sandberg directed a two-and-a-half minute short film that quickly went viral. He was able to scare audiences in a very short space of time, tapping into an almost primal fear of the dark. Three years later a relatively low budget Lights Out is set to scare the world with a skilled cast and clever script, with the help of Conjuring and Saw director James Wan as producer.
Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is forced to face her fears when her younger brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) starts to experience the same phenomenon that tested Rebecca’s sanity when she was younger. She sets out to find the cause of the terror plaguing the family and solve the mystery behind the entity that has attached itself to her mother, Sophie (Maria Bello).
The film opens with a sequence mirroring Sandberg’s short film, setting the mood for the rest of the film and giving the audience a taste of what to expect. From the opening scene, a relatively simple story line unfolds with the focus on everyone’s childhood fear of the dark. The film avoids over-explaining events, leaving the audience in the dark and guessing at every turn. Unrelenting suspense and an outstanding performance by Palmer and Bateman create unsettling scenes that promise to keep viewers wide-eyed and scared. Wide camera angles and the film’s subtle score guide the audience through the film, rather than forcefully trying to scare viewers.
The script is well-written and simple and has an element of believability to it. This is marred somewhat by the involvement of Rebecca’s boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia), who comes across as too relaxed and accepting of a bizarre situation, given that he did not grow up with the strange happenings like Rebecca and her brother did. Like The Babadook (2014), the film makes bold statements about depression and its sufferers, which gets viewers thinking while also providing a thrilling scare. Overall, Lights Out is a promising and successful debut for Sandberg.