July 26, 2016
Whenever the name James Wan appears on a movie poster, surely that promises to be one helluva horror film. He just directed his own sequel "Conjuring 2" last month. This week, he is the producer of another horror film, "Lights Out," which was based on director David F. Sandberg's first short film of the same title back in 2013. "Lights Out" is Sandberg's feature film debut. He is set to direct the sequel to another Wan-produced film "Annabelle" next year.
Little Martin kept falling asleep in class because of sleepless nights. The school could not contact his mentally-disturbed mother Sophie, so they called in his half-sister Rebecca to pick him up. Rebecca finds out that their mother had been off her psych medication and was once again talking to her terrifying "friend" Diana who only existed in darkness -- the same reason she left their house years ago. Rebecca decides to stay and help their mother finally get rid of the malevolent dark scourge that had been terrorizing their family for several years.
The lead character Rebecca is played by Australian actress Teresa Palmer who made her Hollywood debut in another horror film, "The Grudge 2" in 2006. Since then though, she only had sporadic success in choosing the right roles, usually winding up in forgettable films in the past 10 years. However, with the remake of "Point Break" last year and this one, she may finally be on her way to bigger things.
With her unconventional beauty, Maria Bello had long been cast into strong but unusual characters. The role I remember her for the most was unfortunately not her best, that of her terrible miscasting to replace Rachel Weisz as Evelyn in the third "Mummy" film. As the tormented mother Sophie, Bello was right in her weird comfort zone. We feel for her as we feel for her children.
Having a kid terrified by a ghost is a common horror movie trope. 10-year old Gabriel Bateman does play a scared kid very well, as he also did in his first film "Annabelle" two years ago. He has a lot of disturbing encounter scenes with Diana herself which were some of the best scares in the film.
The character of Rebecca's boyfriend Bret (played by Alexander DiPersia) was an interesting one. He was fiercely loyal despite the dismissive noncommittal attitude of Rebecca. The way his character was being built up, I did not expect what happened to him at the end. Always good to see side characters that get developed well, especially in a horror film where you might expect them to be the throwaway first victim.
The film starts strong with a very creepy sequence set in a mannequin warehouse (of all places!) starring Billy Burke as a man attacked by a shadowy figure. That scene where his assistant Esther (Lotta Lotsen, Sandberg's wife) was turning the light switch on and off many times was so simple yet so full of heart-stopping tension. This excellent opening sequence setup the mood and pace for the rest of the film.
Director Sandberg relied a lot on the darkness of the scenes coupled with the eerie musical score to build up and set up for jump scares. It was fun to catch a glimpse of the shadowy outline of Diana while it was still not obvious visible. That whole sequence lit up by black light was very-well executed. The atmosphere created was so thick with suspense you will be at the edge of your seat to the very end. 8/10.