There is a world of difference between potential and reality.
“Lights Out” is a horror film about a family that is haunted by a creature that only appears when the lights go out (I know how stupid and simple that sounds but that’s honestly the best way to describe the plot). Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman and Maria Bello star as David F. Sandberg, who created a short film on which this is based, directs.
I’m not the biggest fan of horror films, especially PG-13 ones, as many nowadays are just not very good and/or rely more on gore and jump scares than genuine tension. But when I saw the trailer for this I was intrigued, even turning to my friend in the theater and saying “that’s actually a brilliant premise.” But after actually seeing the film, that’s pretty much all this it has: a nice idea.
First things first, Teresa Palmer is terrific here and anchors the film. She plays a daughter who is estranged from her mother and had her dad walk out on her when she was young, but is forced to return home when the hauntings start happening. Palmer has a nice blend of courageous yet scared and is a solid centerpiece.
Quite literally every other actor in the film is awful, even by scary movie standards. Maria Bello, one of Hollywood’s better actresses, is pretty terrible as the depressed, possibly insane mother, and delivers some lines with such awkward lack of interest or genuinely awful fake-sadness that it gets deplorable after a while. Palmer’s boyfriend (Alexander DiPersia) also has some terrible line delivery and even if Gabriel Bateman isn’t the worst kid actor we’ve ever seen, he has some laughably overacted facial reactions and lip quivers.
All this could be forgiven if the film was scary though, right? We forgive comedies all the time if they’re not the best movie but are actually funny. Well unfortunately for “Lights Out” there isn’t much going bump in the night here. Like I said, the concept is brilliant, having a demon who can only be seen in the shadows but disappears in light; we’re all afraid of the dark. But the film relies too heavily on jump scares and sets up almost every scare with foreshadowing (pun?) slow motion and a heightened soundtrack.
The rules of the demon are also never explained; she can apparently make lights flicker and cut power lines, but can’t tear duct tape to flick a switch. It’s worth noting the ending is laughably corny, too.
“Lights Out” isn’t a *bad* film, it’s actually quite well-set up and shot. It’s just the narrative and execution never quite find their footing, and aside from Palmer the performances all detract from the film rather than aid it. This may be a fun enough rainy Saturday night watch with friends, but I wasn’t getting sweaty palms and for that a horror film needs to be condemned.
Critics Rating: 4/10