‘Lights Out’: In the dark, this supremely scary movie glows

SHARE ‘Lights Out’: In the dark, this supremely scary movie glows

Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) tries to protect her younger stepbrother (Gabriel Bateman) in “Lights Out.” | New Line Cinema

Even the most cynical, jaded, seen-it-all-before critic cannot deny certain visceral reactions to a film.

“Lights Out” gave me the chills.

Not just a little gentle breeze to the hairs on the back of my neck.

Not a mere “freezing” and fleeting jolt to the senses.

THE. CHILLS. Up and down the torso, a half-dozen times.

Even though I felt I knew what was coming at nearly every turn, even though I’ve seen maybe a hundred movies where there’s a profound and persistent and deep knock on the door in the dead of night, and there’s a false alarm followed by a real scare, and we get close-ups of the door handle jiggling which is NOT a good thing, and there are moments when you want to scream, “WHY ARE THE NEIGHBORS NOT HEARING ANY OF THIS!,” David F. Sandberg’s “Lights Out” isn’t merely one of the scariest movies of the year — it’s one of the best movies of the year, genre be damned.

It’s all about the execution, and Sandberg and screenwriter Eric Heisserer have such a deft touch, it’s almost as if they’re sitting there with us, saying:

“You’re right: things are about to get real scary. BOOM!

“Now it’s time for just the proper dose of comic relief. And here’s a moment where you can laugh at how scared you were and even share a comment with your seatmate as we take a brief pause before it gets dark again.”

This is a scary movie made by gifted filmmakers who clearly love scary movies.

Based on (and greatly expanding) Sandberg’s near-perfect short film of 2013, “Lights Out” preys on a primal fear central to so many great horror movies:

Be afraid of the dark. Be very, very afraid.

When the lights are on, you’re OK. When it’s dark, you’re f—ed. “Lights Out” has great fun with that premise, with some characters using hilariously inventive methods to keep those lights shining.

There’s also some fairly obvious but effective thematic stuff about family dynamics, and how far a mother will go to protect her children — and what happens to a woman who isn’t a mother and scoffs at any kind of commitment, but feels her familial instincts kicking in when a young relative is in danger. (“Aliens,” anyone?)

The underrated Billy Burke (Bella’s dad in “Twilight,” the lead in the NBC series “Revolution”) excels in an extended prologue telling us what we’re in for, and I’ll leave it at that.

Awards committees rarely honor work in this genre, but Maria Bello deserves supporting actress consideration for her work as Sophie, the mother of a grown daughter named Rebecca (Teresa Palmer in a stellar performance) and Rebecca’s 10-year-old stepbrother, Martin (good work by Gabriel Bateman).

Sophie’s crazy — or so it seems. When the lights go down, she’s enveloped in the clutches of Diana, a creepy and violent entity Sophie actually considers a friend. (The backstory explaining the roots of the relationship between Sophie and Diana is clever and horrific and oddly plausible.)

When things get out of control at Sophie’s house, Martin turns to his older stepsister for help. And even though Rebecca hasn’t been around for years, something tells her Martin really needs her — and she kicks into protective mode. (Another winning character: Alexander DiPersia’s Bret, Rebecca’s boyfriend, who looks like the roadie for a rock band and the kind of guy who will jump ship at the first sign of trouble but is genuinely devoted to Rebecca.)

I loved how “Lights Out” answers certain questions we almost always ask in horror movies, e.g, “Why don’t you call the cops?”

I love the finality and the bad— nature of the ending.

And I loved how it literally gave me the chills.


New Line Cinema presents a film directed by David F. Sandberg and written by Eric Heisserer, based on a short film by Sandberg. Running time: 81 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for terror throughout, violence including disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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