(NEW YORK) — In James Wan I trust, so the fact that he’s the guy behind the new horror flick Lights Out was comforting. Wan is a modern-day horror genius (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring), and even though he’s the producer here and not the director, you know there’s going to be — at the very least — a heart-palpitating, white-knuckle moment or two.
At the outset, Lights Out doesn’t disappoint. Directed by David F. Sandberg and based on his own short, the “horror” in this horror film is a forlorn and deranged demon-apparition named Diana. Diana can only appear and do damage in the dark. She could be standing over you, about to rip your lungs out, but if you turn on a light or flash a light in her face, she will disappear. It’s a clever and effective device which works so well in the opening sequence that it seems impossible that the rest of the movie could live up to it. It doesn’t, but it tries…it desperately tries.
The opening is so strong, I actually didn’t really care where this creature – who can fling you around like a bag of potato chips and literally turn you inside out and twist you up like a pretzel – came from. But when her origin is eventually revealed, it made me wish she had remained my haunting, impossibly violent horror mistress.
Teresa Palmer stars in Lights Out as Rebecca, a rebellious, fiercely independent young woman. Besides the opening sequence, her character is the only other outstanding element of this film. A strong female lead, she’s the “alpha” in her relationship with her maybe-boyfriend Bret (Alaxander DiPersia). Bret desperately wants a commitment from Rebecca, but she won’t give him the satisfaction; it seems as though she’s just using him for sex. It’s a delicious role reversal and a confident Palmer plays it to perfection.
Of course, there’s a backstory to Rebecca: she ran away from home at a young age because her mother (Maria Bello) had severe psychological problems, which seemingly drove Rebecca’s father away. Rebecca’s mom eventually remarried and had a son, Martin, played by the very promising Gabriel Bateman. Now here’s where things get complicated.
We learn Martin suffers from insomnia for two reasons. A) His father was recently murdered, but we’re not sure Martin knows the details, and B) It turns out his mom is friends with Diana. Remember her? The evil spirt who can kill you when the lights are out?
We eventually learn how Diana became Diana and what Maria Bello’s character has to do with her very existence – but sadly, it’s lame, completely forced and terribly predictable. Kudos to Sandberg and screenwriter Eric Heisserer for creating a strong and complex female lead, but jeers to Sandberg and Heisserer for the trite horror narrative.
Two-and-a-half out of Five Stars.
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