The low-budget horror pic Lights Out comes from producer James Wan, who’s mastered the art of using sound effects to max effect in his Conjuring franchise. Here, director David F. Sandberg and screenwriter Eric Heisserer leave it to their production crew as well to generate the vast majority of scares. In something named Lights Out, you could correctly surmise that the lighting technicians are of key value here. Their work is often impressive.
If only there were a compelling story to match the occasionally nifty crew contributions. The pic opens with an effective intro where a textile warehouse owner meets his demise due to a shadowy female figure who appears only in the darkness. Flash forward to the man’s widow (Maria Bello) living with her grade school age son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and trying to cope with his death. Her grieving patterns are a bit off kilter as she seems to be conversing with that same otherworldly creature who took her husband away. This overall creepiness leads Martin to seek out his half sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer). She left years ago due to her own father’s abandonment and Mom’s strange behavior. Together, the siblings uncover a lot of backstory to explain what is happening. Tagging along is Rebecca’s boyfriend (Alexander DiPersia), who gets a gold star for sticking around when the going gets rough.
I give Lights Out some credit for attempting to fashion a narrative that goes out of its way to justify its character’s behavior, particularly with Bello. She veers between pharmaceutically chill and understandably freaked out. It helps that the performances are uniformly solid. A problem here is that once the existence of Diana (she’s the spirit wreaking all this havoc) is addressed, Lights sort of lumbers on with the same scare tactics repeatedly. There’s only so many times the flick of a lighting switch and the boo moment that follows doesn’t become redundant. It’s an issue that plagued the Conjuring sequel with its familiar sound effects jump moments from the original. In the plus column is that director Sandberg keeps it brisk at just 81 minutes. For a horror flick freaky Friday night, you could do a lot worse than this. Still, there’s plenty else that illuminates the genre in superior ways.
**1/2 (out of four)