Lights Out takes your irrational fear of the dark and adds a malicious presence that can only be seen in the shadows and felt exactly when it’s too late.

We have an ingrained fear of the dark.

That’s why we make the 20 foot leap to our beds at night, keep our feet covered in case of monsters, and never EVER stare at the closet door.

It moves because there’s absolutely something in it.

Martin (Gabriel Bateman, Annabelle (2014), American Gothic) is recently fatherless and his mother spirals into a non-functioning lump. He’s so terrified of what might get him  in the dark he’s not sleeping. After falling asleep in class his estranged sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer, I Am Number Four (2011), Warm Bodies (2013)) is called to take him home. Rebecca has had a few battles of her own with trust and abandonment being big themes in her life. Her reasons for squaring off with her mom change from revenge to fear to determination.

Sophie (Maria Bello, Coyote Ugly (2000), Demonic (2015)) clings to everything she tried to save with irrational defiance after the death of her second husband. At night she talks to her mostly unseen (until it’s too late) friend Diana, who isn’t keen on sharing Sophie with anyone. It’s a complicated dynamic that leads to all sorts of secrets revealed and one of the more surprising and dark endings I’ve seen in a while. This movie, like The Babadook (2014) before it, reminds audiences why something happens isn’t as important as stopping it.

Alexander DiPersia (Forever (2015)) plays Rebecca’s boyfriend, Bret, acting as center and support system. He’s the squeeze that’s all in, an actual nice guy that cares about the woman he’d like to get serious with. He’s level-headed, without being bossy, and at no point does he flex his muscles and take charge. He’s smart and real and the few heroic things he does make you cheer. It makes you fear for his safety.

Look, Lights Out is not without its flaws. There are one or two scenes that might be missing beginnings. You may head back to your car and wonder about something that didn’t fully click – for me that’s okay. I don’t need to see how the magic trick works to appreciate the chills. I didn’t care I had some unanswered questions (because it’s a movie, not something impacting my life). I do know Lights Out had some genuinely creepy moments and a finale that made me heartbroken and a little teary.

I even saw this movie twice and still got the same chills and cheers in the same places. It’s shocking and funny and these characters aren’t caricatures. You know these people you’re afraid for them

There are lot of smart little tricks in this movie that don’t require foreshadowing or groundwork. Don’t mention the Spear of Destiny 6 times, not at all for 75 minutes, and then only in the last 5 minutes to save the world. There’s no Chekov’s gun to be seen anywhere. When you have only the barest amount of information, you survive by what you have and only what you have. No deus ex machina necessary here (yes I’ve used that phrase twice in two reviews) and there isn’t a single throwaway scene.

Lights Out is less about the thing in the dark than how abandonment can lead to a sickness of the heart. It iinfects everyone it touches, driving loved ones away, and killing the diseased hearts one by one.

You don’t have to love this movie, most people expecting lots of blood and gore and a high body count won’t, but I enjoyed it a lot. I’ll mention stunt woman Alicia Vela-Baily, who plays Diana, because this isn’t come CGI-created monster. She’s a successful stunt double, and moves with eerie, terrifying grace and speed. You mostly only see her in shadow, carving her name or dragging someone into the dark. It’s enough to make you wary of anything just barely seen in the corner of your eye.

Lights Out is based on the award winning 2:30 minute short film by David F. Sandberg – go ahead and watch it, I’ll wait.  There’s not much there but the dread of the dark and and the fear of the unknown. Simple horror is always best. This is his feature film debut and his short form style looses nothing in the transition to long form. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (The Thing (2011), Final Destination 5 (2011)) manages to both expand the premise of the original short film, and at the same time compress what could have been lots of screaming and pointless deaths in to 81 minutes of tight terror. There are no wasted deaths in this film, no red herrings, no pulled punches. Everything you need is laid out as the story progresses in with a wee bit of expository dialog somewhere about the middle of the 2nd Act.

There was no filler, no expository, no throw-away characters. Tight cast, tight acting, and some peeking through your fingers. It’s a welcome departure from a lot of modern horror movies.  It doesn’t follow the new standard formula of paper doll cutouts, isolation, paint-by-numbers deaths, and the battered but triumphant Final Girl (usually saved by a guy). I hope Hollywood understands how tired that template is and gives us more terror, fear, and thrills.

Lights Out is rated PG-13 for jump scares, a few mangled bodies (”disturbing images”), and bodily violence. There are no boobs, naked butts, or excessive swearing.

Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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