After having received a lot of attention from it’s humble start as a short film on YouTube, little budget horror flick, Lights Out turned into a big budget production that was being financed and oversaught by horror film big-wig James Wan.. Unfortunately, Lights Out only measures up to its own three minute predecessor in scares and story--which is not great for a feature length film.
There are great performances from Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello, who, in the way of casting and performance, look fantastic together as mother and daughter. While Palmer is a great final girl--emotionally independent, clever, cool and running from her dark side--the storyline leaves much to be desired. A simplistic storyline is what one might expect from a horror movie from recent decades, but there was a great opportunity to explore the complex relationship between Palmer’s character and that of her mother.
Horror fans may remember Bello from the Stephen King short story adaptation Big Driver from Lifetime in 2014, where Bello plays a best-selling author who must fight for her life when car trouble lands her in the path of a crazed rapist-murder. Bello brings that intense desperation believably to her role as mom in Lights Out.
As mentioned in a review of this film on AV Club, LO plays with the overt metaphor of mental illness. I personally detest when people dictate to you what a film “means” and then base their entire analysis on it as if fact, but upon seeing this movie you would be hard pressed not to see the symbolism between the monster and the illness that Bello’s character struggles with. Multiple times I was reminded of those depression medication commercials where the depression is personified--that’s how obvious this LO is.
The comparison could have done a great deal to give some real meat and purpose to LO’s somewhat flat storyline, but ultimately the metaphor takes a troubling turn--a turn that may even be triggering for people who have suffered or are suffering with a mental disorder.
The film could have avoided the problematic comparison if it fleshed out some of the great story opportunities that it touches upon. I would have loved to know more about Teresa Palmer’s character when she was younger, maybe see a flashback of the homelife they repeatedly refer to. I would have liked to know a bit more about her issues with the love interest (played by Alexander Dipersia) which make her that emotionally unreachable character usually only reserved for men, but the film doesn’t take proper advantage of this.
I know what you’re thinking: “It’s a horror movie, how much story do you want?” And you’re kind of right, the point of most mainstream horror movies is to have a super simple plot so that we can focus on the reason we’re all here--to get scared (except The Conjuring--God bless you James Wan, even though you couldn’t save this movie). But Lights Out probably won’t do much for you in that regard if you’re a horror fan, so excuse me for wanting something for my money.
Writer: Eboni Boykin