When Rebecca left home, she thought she left her childhood fears behind. Growing up, she was never really sure of what was and wasn’t real when the lights went out…and now her little brother, Martin, is experiencing the same unexplained and terrifying events that had once tested her sanity and threatened her safety. A frightening entity with a mysterious attachment to their mother, Sophie, has reemerged.
Lights Out is a long needed breath of fresh air compared to other supernatural, haunting themed movies. These days most ghost movies that make it to theaters tend to go like this: a family (and it is always white people) moves into a big house. Said house has to be large so that later the characters can be chased from room to room. Some kind of evil force will be present in the home. Warnings, either direct or indirect, that something bad is happening will be ignored by the family. This starts out with brief acts of denial and can escalate to, “Well, chairs throw themselves across the room all the time. Nothing out of the ordinary here. La la la la la.” And then after they realize it is too late to get a hotel, they have to fight for their lives and miraculously defeat the evil ghost/spirit/demon/whatever.
While Lights Out does share some similarities with that kind of story, it does not strictly follow that formula. And hallelujah for that. So many supernatural-type movies have just not been worth watching in recent years because you more or less know exactly what will happen. That being said, this film is not particularly unpredictable. A viewer who likes to analyze films can probably guess what will happen next throughout the majority of the film. Of course, anyone watching a monster movie knows how it will end; there are a few movies here and there where the monster wins but those are almost never theatrical films. Another modern trope Lights Out thankfully broke away from was using buckets of fake blood in every scene with the monster and expecting that to automatically make your film scary. The gore is used minimally and the film is frightening nonetheless.
Now effects are not everything. The movie was very strongly supported by its cast of characters. As is the case with most horror movies, it is a small cast. You have the family involved, a mother and her two kids, plus the daughter’s boyfriend and a less prominent social worker who does not quite make main character status but is the most prominent supporting character. Particularly of note was the young son in the film, mostly because of his age. Finding a good, believable child actor is really hard but Gabriel Bateman hit the mark in Lights Out. The characters did not act too realistically in many moments throughout the film, but hey most movies are like that. The boyfriend, for example, never decided to say, “Oh, there really is a ghost. Ok, bye, good luck with that you guys. Try really hard not to die!”
One of the things that really helped with this film was the dark environment it is based around. When things are poorly lit you do not have to be as hardcore with your effects. Something CGI that looks half-baked under full light can look really, really good if you just tone down the lighting. A great example of this is Reign of Fire, which almost 15 years later still has some of the most realistic looking dragons in any film because they are mostly seen in dark environments that prevent audiences from nit-picking how real/unreal they look. We see full body shots of the ghost very early on but we do not really get a good look until later in the film since it only appears in the dark. Lights Out is a strong horror film that beats out most other new horror films (looking at you, Blair Witch).