Lights Out – LA Film Fest Review


In 2013, the short film Lights Out became a viral sensation, as the short became a hit to critics and viewers, alike. The short’s simple – but effective – premise rocketed director David F. Sandberg towards the radar of producer Lawrence Grey and horror movie veteran, James Wan. Now, Sandberg’s scary short has been developed into a full-length feature film. However, not many short film horror directors have transitioned well into feature films. Does Sandberg defy those odds, or does he follow in the footsteps of those who have come before him?

Fortunately, Lights Out is a great adaptation of the bare-boned short that Sandberg directed. The film may be a few notches below the fright factor of James Wan’s work, but the psychological terror that awaits viewers should definitely keep horror fans satisfied until the very end.

Lights Out follows Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman), and their mother Sophie (Maria Bello), who are all experiencing unexplained and terrifying events that jeopardize their safety and sanity. A mysterious creature, interestingly named Diana, has attached itself to Sophie, and will torment anyone that tries to jeopardize their “friendship.”

Lights Out marks David F. Sandberg’s first foray into feature films. Despite being a first-timer, Sandberg demonstrates the knowledge and ability to work in the genre on a much grander scale. It also helps that James Wan and his amazing team of scare artists are backing Sandberg. Sandberg and cinematographer Marc Spicer (Furious 7) put together such a creative lighting design that only heightens up the tension in each scene. In addition, Sandberg comes up with a vast array of creative ideas for light sources in certain scenes, where the way the light is used to combat Diana will surely get people cheering. This creative use of light makes the film fun as much as it is scary.

While the visuals play an important role in the film, sounds also play a large part, as well. Sound designer Bill R. Dean excels at crafting the insect-like clicks, wood scratching, and a distorted voice that characterizes Diana’s presence in the film. The film also features various instances of speaker panning that intensifies the nail-biting scenes in the dark.

Much of Lights Out’s fun comes from the uneasiness of watching the film. Sandberg smartly plays with everyone’s inherent fear of the dark and never relies too much on jump scares. The jump scares – when they do occur – are few and far between, but are highly effective. However, he does rely on the conveniently placed flickering light effect that garners nothing but apathetic responses.

Eric Heisserer’s script does a serviceable job expanding on the viral short film that Sandberg created 3-years ago. Lights Out isn’t just about a violent creature haunting a poor family, but actually goes deeper by dealing with the emotional relationship between this family. Unfortunately, there were a few glaring plot holes that needed to be clarified, and, sadly, were left unexplained. These issues ultimately hinder any emotional impact that Lights Out was trying to convey.


At a brisk hour and 21-minute runtime, certain explanations could’ve been sprinkled in to help alleviate these issues. Even with a short runtime, the film feels even shorter due to its on-point pacing. There weren’t any scenes where it felt as if it was dragging.

Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies) ably captures her role with both grim determination and a compassion that develops as she unravels the secrets of Diana. Sadly, the fantastic Maria Bello (The 5th Wave) is underused here. She conveys Sophie’s mental disabilities with an emotional vulnerability, and does a great job blurring the lines between Sophie’s insanity and sanity. Much like Wan’s films, kids end up being the most sympathetic characters in the entire film.

Whether it is due to the frightening circumstances surrounding the kids or what not, it’s a demanding role that seems to bring the best out of the young actors. Gabriel Bateman (Annabelle) is no exception, as he capably seizes the role with pure terror and confusion. As much as Diana’s origins are not fully explained, the visual representation of Diana downright terrifying. But Diana wouldn’t be as terrifying if it weren’t for Alicia Vela-Bailey, who turns in an imposing and chilling performance as well.

Overall, Lights Out is definitely a solid debut for David F. Sandberg. It may not be perfect, but it’s a film that creatively pushes the buttons of people’s fear of the dark. That element is what makes Lights Out so scary fun. With time and practice, Sandberg has the potential to become one of the great horror maestros, like Wan, himself, and Guillermo del Toro.

Rating: 4/5 atoms
NR 4 Atoms - B

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