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When Rebecca left home, she thought she left her childhood fears behind. Growing up, she was never really sure of what was and wasn’t real when the lights went out…and now her little brother, Martin, is experiencing the same unexplained and terrifying events that had once tested her sanity and threatened her safety. A frightening entity with a mysterious attachment to their mother, Sophie, has reemerged. But, this time, as Rebecca gets closer to unlocking the truth, there is no denying that all their lives are in danger…once the lights go out. (From Warner Bros. official synopsis)

 Lights Out
Horror movies have always done a good job of exploiting our fear of the dark and this has led some filmmakers to personify an evil within that darkness. Light becomes a major weapon against vampires, the creepy-crawlies of Gremlins and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and the xenomorphs of Pitch Black. David F. Sandberg’s 2013 short, Lights Out, was a beautiful distillation of these popular ideas and so successfully creepy that it could be considered the last word on the subject of evil darkness and its aversion to light. But it was a viral video sensation, so, of course, a major studio pursued a feature-length version. Fortunately, Sandberg has been brought along for the ride and he brings his A-game to this, his first feature-length movie. The pre-title sequence is a tasty plate of creepy pasta that elegantly sets the stage and visually explains the simple concept. From here, it’s a matter of getting the meat & potatoes storytelling out of the way, so that he can move on to more finely-tuned scary set-pieces. It’s really impressive how much milage he’s able to get out of the same basic gag, where the monster disappears and reappears as the light shifts. Taken piece-by-piece, Lights Out is a stylish entry in the growing Blumhouse canon – unfortunately, the necessities of mainstream, feature-length filmmaking ensure that, as a whole, it’s still pretty mediocre.

The screenplay is supplied by Eric Heisserer, a New Line regular and co-writer of the Nightmare on Elm Street (ew, 2010) and The Thing (gross, 2011) remakes (or second remake in The Thing’s case), as well as Final Destination 5 (yay!, also 2011). He has the unenviable task of creating a backstory for a creature that is better left unexplained, a wraparound plot for her to exist within, and a series of characters for her to torment. He takes few chances with the narrative, opting to anchor the spooky happenings with a by-the-numbers domestic drama. There are no surprises in the events of the main story and the emotional exchanges teeter on the brink of soap opera absurdity. Fortunately, the cast is quite good and likable, even the generic male love interest, so it’s not a complete slog between scares. The monster’s origin is sort of neat, too, though it is awfully similar to the monster’s origin in Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors (2008 – it’s a loose remake of Kim Sung-ho’s Into the Mirror and I think the two films have different climaxes) and not really explored to its creepy potential. I suppose that maybe they’re saving something for the sequel? And, again, having a ‘why’ behind the monster robs it of some of its power, even if that ‘why’ gives the heroes a compelling way to stop her in the end (no spoilers).

 Lights Out

Video


Lights Out was shot on Arri Alexa XT digital HD cameras and is presented 2.40:1, 1080p video on this Blu-ray disc. Obviously, the interplay between dark and light is an important visual element and this can be an issue for clarity. Sandberg and cinematographer Marc Spicer maintain a clean, very digital look in order to push the darkness to extremes without completely losing detail. A grainier format would not have worked in this case. Even with clarity in mind, some scenes are too dark to discern (and there’s still considerable digital grain throughout). I didn’t see the film in theaters, but assume that this issue is inherent in the original material. At its best, however, the gradations are not so subtle as to smudge up the harder edges and the blacks are relatively pure/consistent without fading into greys. The heavy use of black lights during the final act certainly helps here, as the blue/white glow offers an in-film excuse to punch-up texture and patterns. Colour quality is especially vivid during daylight sequences, which sets a nice contrast to the sickly green and desaturated night sequences (the ones before the blacklight scenes).

Audio


Lights Out is presented in clean and super-dynamic 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The complex and busy multi-channel design is vital to the film’s eerie tone and the success of its most potent scares. The purity of its eerie silences are also quite important. The basic formula is stark silence, followed by jittery noise in the stereo or surround channels, more silence, and then a big ‘boo!’ that blasts screams and supernatural effects over the entire room. The in-between stuff, where characters discuss the plot and the blandness of the ‘real world’ impedes on the spookiness, the dialogue is crisp and environmental ambience is natural. Benjamin Wallfisch’s spooky music is used sparingly to grumble beneath set-ups and shout in the audience’s face during jump-scares. When the score is allowed a little more roaming room, it exhibits nice depth and warmth.

 Lights Out

Extras


The only extra is a collection of deleted scenes (three total, 13:59, HD). These extend some story details, connect a few dots between the family and the monster (including a more complete origin story), and include about ten minutes of extended ending (including an extensive fight sequence and a set-up for a sequel). For some reason (rights issues?) they haven’t included the original short, which is a pretty big bummer.

Overall


Lights Out is one of those ‘pure’ concept horror movies that works better as a short subject. It’s ultimately less a problem of the narrative overstaying its welcome and more an issue with the filmmakers not finding a balance between scare scenes and expositional scenes. The middle section ends up feeling too long, while the otherwise satisfying climax feels rushed. Still, the set-pieces are expertly executed, the actors are good, and the whole thing is smarter than the average middle-budget, PG-13 horror crowd-pleaser. The movie is so dark that it gives the HD transfer a few problems, but the overall effect is clean and the DTS-HD MA soundtrack is stellar. Sadly the only extra is a deleted scene reel.

 Lights Out

 Lights Out

 Lights Out

 Lights Out
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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