Lights Out

'Lights Out' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 22, 2016

[Theater*]

Written by: Eric Heisserer

Directed by: David F. Sandberg

In Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg’s feature debut, an expanded realization of a short film he made in 2013, something sinister lurks in the absence of light and enjoys tormenting anyone unfortunate enough to be in the same room with it. That is, of course, unless those people have a flashlight or bright cell phone screen handy and they can wield it like Father Merrin does the cross before Pazuzu himself: “Go away! Go away, you!”

Lights Out is a family drama dressed up as a fright fest. It’s well-acted and on-the-rise Aussie actress Teresa Palmer makes much of it worth your while. She’s certainly easier on the eyes than she is on your heart, a kind of bratty youth who blames her attitude on daddy walking out on the family so long ago. Her mother (Maria Bello) has lost her mind and become reclusive. After many years she’s still haunted by the disappearance of childhood friend Diana.

Her daughter Rebecca (Palmer) can’t seem to get a grip on her own life. She lives alone in her apartment and doesn’t want to call the guy she’s been seeing for eight months her boyfriend. Bret (Alexander DiPersia)’s not going anywhere though, not even after he’s finally met Rebecca’s crazy mom. Heck, especially after. Rebecca has a younger half-brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) who still lives at home but soon it becomes clear that that situation can no longer continue, what with mom talking to herself late at night and haunting the poor boy with stories of her past. Stuff about Diana. Other gibberish.

One thing that Lights Out has going for it is a strong sense of family. That manifests despite the brokenness of this particular household. Whether it’s Rebecca’s instinctive protectiveness of Martin — she attempts to take him in and care for him at her own apartment before a child care specialist shows up and impresses upon her the actual, transformative reality of becoming a caretaker — or Bret’s inexplicable devotion to his not-girlfriend; even Sophie, the sick mother, has a deep love for her son and daughter. The film is wisely, and arguably, more intimately concerned with human relationships than it is with things going bump in the night. Bello in particular manages to really dial in on the emotional heft of her character experiencing some low moments.

Palmer is less interesting, as is her boy-toy. Both actors are likable enough but the latter barely leaves his fingerprints on the story. Rebecca never really seems to change, as circumstances force her to get back in touch with her mother despite years of tension and weirdness. As Martin, the young Bateman has presence but more importantly he spares us from yet another shrieking, generally irritating cinematic creation who serves no greater purpose than to put everyone in needless danger.

Less interesting than any of these is the antagonist, some haunt that has roots in the history of this once-upon-a-time happy family. Frustratingly Lights Out is another case in which evil appears and acts only when the script finds it convenient. This would also explain the apparition’s obnoxious inconsistencies, like being able to shut down power to an entire building but not having the fortitude to withstand an attack from the light of a cell phone. Something interesting does come out of the invention — it’s creepy watching the thing move in between flips of a light switch — but if you’re in it for the wickedness awaiting all those who have trespassed, you’re in the wrong movie.

If you’ve come for the jump scares, you’ve come to the right place. That’s all Lights Out does, even if it does it well. I hope it doesn’t become Sandberg’s calling card. Despite the quality of a handful of those moments, I gotta say a person’s healthy fear of darkness is actually more intense than the fear of what Sandberg’s film has laying around in it. I can’t help but feel like we would understand the function of so many repeated jump scares if the threat were more real. Without a compelling villain behind everything the technique just feels lazy and uninspired. Repetitive.

When it comes right down to it, decent ghost story; not so good movie.

MV5BMTU1MjgzOTE5Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjUxNDgzOTE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_

* I have never walked out on a movie because of other people in the theater being too loud. Lights Out broke that streak. I went to check it out on Friday but there were two very intoxicated guys in there who genuinely just didn’t realize how loud they were being. Unfortunately this was after they and two other groups came in after the movie had begun (like, tape rolling not the credits and stuff). I got a pass for another time, came back Saturday. I was alone in the theater (11:15p) until a rambunctious little group of teens came in and they proceeded to talk through the entire movie and were probably even louder than the guys the night before. I almost left again. So it is quite possible that this review doesn’t accurately reflect how I might have felt about it had I been able to fully concentrate on the film. So, I thank those individuals for that. Thanks for the distractions. 


Recommendation: The strong sense of family is what makes Lights Out worth sitting through at all. The steeped-in-reality tone and settings feel very James Wan but there’s little evidence of his influence elsewhere. I suppose the script isn’t the worst you could find either. But come the end of it  you’re left wanting a lot more. That’s a shame when everyone seems so committed. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 81 mins.

Quoted: “Hey Martin, what’s up? Did we wake you?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Let the Right One In (2008)

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 7.23.46 PM

Happy Halloween everyone! In trying to properly celebrate the world’s most bizarre ‘holiday,’ today’s entry nearly did not happen, as I couldn’t find a copy of the original Halloween and I’m not into the whole bootlegging thing (yet). . .that, and I don’t watch a lot of T.V. Then the second choice was going to be Child’s Play. Netflix again failed me by informing me that there was a “very long wait” associated with that particular rental. So I was forced to go to other options. After pouring over many great suggestions from you fine folks, I decided to go in a completely different direction and I wound up watching a movie about. . . vampires. I know. I know. These, if anything, seem to be the type of ‘horror’ film that I would instantly be turned off by. Predictable, utterly cliched, and usually just. . .weird as hell, I’ve yet to find a vampire film that I could really enjoy. And then I stumbled across this little gem, something that many people might not necessarily associate with ‘horror.’ Nonetheless, today’s TBT turned out to be a great choice and I’m glad I made it. 

Today’s food for thought: Let the Right One In

ltroi-1

Release: January 26, 2008

[Netflix]

This review is coming at you right off the heels of the end credits, which only finished just seconds ago; therefore this is going to be the freshest any film has been on my mind since I started doing Throwback Thursday. And as such, this is probably going to be a sloppy review. All the same, the beauty and sublime perfection that is Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is likely to leave a lasting impression upon me. This is one of the most beautiful films I have ever laid eyes on. And again, vampires do did almost nothing for me.

A Swedish film, Let the Right One In is about a young boy who finds his first romance in a girl who’s not quite human. Alfredson’s work here is stunning for a couple of reasons. Let’s start with the cinematography, considering this element is all but impossible to gloss over.

It’s obvious that Alfredson is about as taken with the elegance of winter — what, with all its crystal-tipped trees, snow-blanketed wonderlands — as any person might be who may consider themselves a romantic. The winter is harsh and unforgiving — especially the further north you go — but the director is intent on capturing the exquisite beauty, if but to simply distract for a moment or two from the world as it were. It’s also a perfectly spooky setting in which to make a horror film. The wintery environs throughout compound the effect of the many bizarre murders that happen in this small town near Stockholm. Bodies are discovered buried in snowdrifts, in thick ice; the chilled breaths of the characters provide an instant discomfort from the opening scenes.

Fortunately there is a story woven like fine fabric through this frozen wonderland of troubled youth, despair and oppression. Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is introverted and a little strange, resulting in his constant bullying at school. He wants to do something about it but can’t find it within himself to actually take action. Then one night he comes across a very strange girl on a playground just outside of his decrepit apartment block — a girl about his age (“I’m 12, more or less. . .”) and the two become friends, even despite her initial not wanting to even go that far. She’s actually a vampire, destined forever to live off the fresh blood of humans, otherwise she’ll die.

Of course, none of this information she reveals at first, which is part of what makes this such an interesting watch. Bit by bit we see this innocent/vampiric personality coming together. Alfredson selects the perfect moments to reveal the characterizations of the “vampire,” using the experiences of this disturbed boy to reflect the nature of humanity versus that of the undead (what exactly are vampires — are they dead, or not? If someone can riddle me that one, I’ll give them. . .a Twix, or something. . .)

Instead of associating laughable, questionable special effects with the actions of these kinds of creatures, the girl (an excellent performance from Lina Leandersson) her character is very much reacting to and interacting with the real world, in real time. Her attacks are not only necessary but understandable. We know why she’s sucking so much blood from the necks of these otherwise-harmless passersby. And we see the effects her presence takes on the town. Each murder becomes more and more strange, and as they do, Eli (Leandersson) knows her stay in this tiny, frost-laden town is dwindling. Only, she begins to fall in love with a real person — Oskar.

The relationship is beautiful, as much as the scenery is a pleasure to watch. I could stare at the introductory scene all day. And while this couldn’t seem more of an odd choice for the night when we celebrate All Hallow’s Eve, the only thing more terrifying than it is the prospect of sitting through a shit horror film on that night. Fortunately, my experience tonight was completely the opposite. I want to reveal so much more about this film, but alas I cannot, for fear of ruining the entire experience for you.

ltroi-3

4-0Recommendation: This will not be the scariest thing you can find on Halloween, but if your goal is to watch a quality flick, here is one rare example of applying classical elements to a story very much steeped in reality. The locations help to make things interesting as well, as Sweden is a beautiful landscape of architectural splendor, barren isolation and unrepentant cold. In short, this is the perfect location to find some creep creatures lurking around. Forget about coffins and Dracula. This is a vampire movie for the 21st century, and it really works.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “Oskar, I do it because I have to. Be me for a while. Please, Oskar. Be me, for a little while. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com