Sunday, October 23, 2016

Video review: "Lights Out"


There’s something to be said for short movies.

Barely cracking the 80-minute mark, “Lights Out” is a terse and tense horror film that relies on familiar tropes -- half-imagined spirits stalking people, especially while they’re trying to sleep -- but does so with verve and some very effective scares.

Watching it, I thought about the fact that we don’t learn too much about the backstories of the characters, especially protagonist Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), a wayward daughter who tries to protect her younger brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), from her psychologically unbalanced mother, Sophie (Maria Bello).

We know she’s somewhat defensive and cut off from others, seeing as how she keeps her boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia), at arm’s length -- even going so far as to deny his boyfriend status after eight months together. She favors Goth clothing and makeup, and decorates her crummy apartment with disturbing drawings and posters.

But really, in a movie like this, do we really need to know her whole life story? Rebecca’s job here is to be relatable, someone who starts out scared and grows stronger, who we can root for when the boogums come calling.

Here that spirit is a skeletal female figure who only appears in darkness. The movie’s signature scare tactic is having the lights go on and off, either by a switch or some other device, with the creature flashing closer each time the lights go off. It’s simple, but quite effective.

Director David F. Sandberg, who adapted this feature from his own short film, and screenwriter Eric Heisserer focus on the scares rather than the psychology. The result is a stripped-down, spare horror tale that is all muscle and little fat.

Bonus features are pretty scant, limited to just a few deleted scenes. It’s hard to believe there was much material to cut out, considering how lean the movie already is. Apparently, sometimes less really is more.

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