David F. Sandberg’s “Lights Out” was originally released as a three minute, internet, horror – short film, in Sweden on December 30, 2013. Afterward, it was shown at festivals in: France – “Lyon Festival Hallucinations Collectives; Spain – “Bilbao Fantasy Film Festival;” and the United Kingdom – “Dead by Dawn Horror Film Festival.” I don’t remember watching it, until after it had been entered in the United States’ “Who’s There Film Challenge,” which took place on December 29, 2014. I found the horror short to be effective and gripping, because I was aware that, due to its short duration, there would be a resolution to what was transpiring before too much time had elapsed. Sandberg was inundated with calls from Hollywood, after “Lights Out” garnered strong critical praise, and audience enthusiasm.
What made “Lights Out” such an enjoyable horror – short film to watch, was not so much what it did show, but what was not explained to the viewer. There was no time for character development in Sandberg’s original short. The film dealt with Lotta Losten’s character, who is listed as ‘woman’ in the credits, getting ready to go to bed for the evening. After exiting the bathroom, and walking toward her bedroom, she shuts off the hallway light. No sooner does she do so, she immediately notices that something is not right. She turns the light back on and as she looks down the hallway, someone or something appears to be situated there. No spoken dialogue is used during the film, so she doesn’t call out to the person or creature. Instead, she merely shuts the lights off again, and the next time she turns on the light the being has moved closer to her bedroom door. Once again, she dismisses what she is seeing as a figment of her imagination, and proceeds to turn the lights out. When she does so, the entity’s presence is seemingly within arm’s reach, and she becomes utterly terrified. After taping up her hallway light switch, she gets into bed, and under the covers. Unfortunately for the woman, it is a mere matter of seconds before what has been stalking her reveals itself. If you haven’t seen the short, it is very easy to find on youtube.com, and well worth the minimal watch time. (As an aside: Lotta Losten, who appears in both the short film, as well as the feature, is David F. Sandberg’s wife).
The catalyst for the remake begins in the same manner as the original short film. Instead of a house, however, this time the opening scene takes place in a factory. The regular employees have left for the evening. The only two people in the factory are the owner Paul (Billy Burke), and his secretary Esther (Lotta Losten). Esther spots what, at first glance, appears to be a woman, but regardless, who or whatever she may be, she does not belong in the factory at that hour. What makes the woman’s presence even more bizarre, is that whenever a light comes on in the area she’s located in, she vanishes; however, each subsequent time the lights go off, the mysterious female reappears even closer to Esther than where she was last located. Esther removes herself from the situation and gets to safety. Paul is on the phone with his son Martin (Gabriel Bateman), and has no plans to leave until he is finished talking; it is a decision that, unfortunately for Paul, he will have next to no time to regret.
The topic that Paul was discussing with Martin, was a serious one, concerning his ex-wife and Martin’s mother, Sophie, who is portrayed by two time Golden Globe nominee, Maria Bello (A History of Violence). Over the past several months Sophie, who suffers from severe depression, has declined to take her prescribed medication. The pills literally help to keep the monsters, in this instance, a malevolent spirit, named Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey), out of her life. The more time passes without her consuming her correct dosages, the worse things escalate. The situation becomes so out-of-hand, to the point where Martin can no longer sleep at night. This leads to his drifting off to sleep in the middle of the school day out of sheer exhaustion. Martin’s behavior, which is becoming a pattern, prompts a phone call home from the school’s concerned nurse (Elizabeth Pan). When she is unable to reach Sophie, she manages to get in touch with Martin’s step-sister Rebecca, a role acted by Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies). Rebecca’s relationship with Sophie is a contentious one.
Rebecca is a bit perplexed as to what to do with Martin. She likes spending time with her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia), but is still commitment shy, not allowing him to spend the night at her place, nor can he even keep things there; not even it seems, one sock, let alone a pair. The last thing she seemingly needs is the responsibility of taking care of a school-aged child. Her line of thinking changes, however, when Martin talks to her about Diana. Rebecca has her own unpleasant childhood history with Diana. She informs Emma (Andi Osho) from child services, that she would rather keep Martin, then return him to Sophie’s house, but since Sophie is Martin’s mother, doing so is not such a cut-and-dry matter.
Once Martin is returned to Sophie, Rebecca begins an inquiry to discover who, and what, Diana is, and her connection to her immediate family. She is determined to put a stop to the creature, for her family’s sake. There is more to Diana’s story, as the viewer will learn, than just the fact the she thrives in darkness, but is reduced to nothing in light. For example, Diana and Sophie spent time together at a mental institution when they were children. Along with Bret and Martin’s help, Rebecca is going to reclaim the family home – one light at a time; as well her mother’s sanity by making sure Sophie takes her medication as prescribed.
What is the purpose for Diana’s existence? If she and Sophie were in an institution when they were children – when and how did Diana gain the power to terrify by the literal flick of a switch? Will Rebecca be able to save her step-brother’s life? What happens to Sophie? Does she regain her mental faculties? Does she sink into an even deeper depression, thanks to Diana, the likes of which there will be no returning from? All of those questions, and more, will be answered by film’s end, although don’t be surprised if a few are revisited in the sequel, which has begun filming, and is scheduled to be released in May of 2017.
The 81 minute feature film version of “Lights Out” premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 8, 2016. While Sandberg had, in essence, no budget to work with to film his short, he had close to five million dollars to use for the filming of the feature. Joining him as a co-writer on the script of “Lights Out” was Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5). Where the film falters, is that it doesn’t offer the viewer characters to get really invested in. Additionally, the script is, at times, rife with exposition. In fairness to the filmmakers, the scares, when they do appear on screen, are thrilling and in certain parts, tension filled, so credit must be given to cinematographer, Marc Spicer (Furious 7). Those looking for blood soaked carnage and gore will be sorely disappointed because there is none of it. The film relies more on elements of the supernatural and tension to help advance the narrative. For the most part, I found “Lights Out” to be entertaining, for a one time viewing experience, but it is certainly nothing I am anxious to watch again anytime in the near future.