If you see Lights Out, do not be surprised if it is the most energetic movie crowd you have ever been a part of. The screams will be relentless, and the whoops will be boisterous. Generally, I do not let the crowd reaction influence my review too significantly, but the Lights Out crew is particularly instructive. This film is so in tune with the rhythm of horror reactions, and it manipulates them so thoroughly right down to the micro level. Jeers over characters making stupid decisions are immediately followed by cheers for their ingenious resourcefulness. Hardened horror vets often ask, “Why don’t characters just do [supposedly easy solution]?” Lights Out answers, “Let’s see what happens when they do. But for the record, it’s not easy, and there’s plenty more movie left to go.”
The premise – a villain that can only attack in the darkness – is a gracefully simple setup, though it does not necessarily portend innovative execution. At first glance, Lights Out looks like it is going to be a fairly straightforward genre exercise, just with above average spookiness and performances. But it ends up being filled with so many unusual, nearly confounding, decisions. It is like this from the get-go. Cinematic supernatural entities tend to reveal themselves gradually, but the presence of Diana – the darkness dweller – is immediately apparent. Arcs of characters coming to accept the presence of evil are compressed to one scene, if they are there at all.
Ultimately, Lights Out succeeds by combining the satisfaction of an understandable plot with the disturbing nature of a world in which everything feels just a little bit incomprehensible. There are several awkward line readings, and it is hard to tell how intentional they are, but regardless, the overall effect is unsettling. Furthermore, the twists are intensely surprising, but what truly sets this movie apart is what follows those twists: sudden, frankly manic shifts in emotion. In a way, this is a story of mental illness caused by ghosts instead of chemical imbalances. It only makes sense, then, that the ultimate explanation of Diana is prosaic but also supernatural, or corporeal but somehow also spectral. And so, Lights Out is a simple fright flick, but also a secret game-changer.
I give Lights Out 99 Surprises Out of 10 Smart Decisions That Seem Like Dumb Decisions.