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Running Time:
1 hr. 21 min.

Rating: PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned.

Rating Explanation:
for terror throughout, violence including disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content

Jimmy's Buzz Guide Review:
An unsettling, fright-filled thriller that delivers superior chills without skimping on story.

Additional Info:
CAST:
Teresa Palmer ... Rebecca
Gabriel Bateman ... Martin
Alexander DiPersia ... Bret
Billy Burke ... Paul
Maria Bello ... Sophie
Alicia Vela-Bailey ... Diana
Andi Osho ... Emma
Rolando Boyce ... Officer Andrews
Maria Russell ... Officer Gomez
Elizabeth Pan ... Nurse
Lotta Losten ... Esther



Lights Out

The picture opens with a prologue in which Paul (Billy Burke) is killed by a creepy female figure (Lotta Losten) in a warehouse. The kicker is that the figure that leaves him a bloody corpse is perceptible–and able to do harm–only in darkness; light makes it disappear, like flicking a switch on and off.

That visual device is used throughout the film, generating periodic jolts as it occurs in clever variations. Paul, it turns out, was the second husband of Sophie (Maria Bello), a woman whose already fragile psyche is left devastated by his death. Her deterioration, which takes the form of conversation with a dark figure in her room, terrifies her young son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) to such a degree that the poor kid can’t get any rest and falls asleep in class. When the social worker overseeing the family’s case can’t get in touch with Sophie, she calls Martin’s stepsister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who moved out of the house some time before. She retrieves the boy and takes him home, but, after finding Sophie in a terrible state, takes him to her place. CPS intervenes, however, and forces her to return the boy to their mother.

Martin, however, immediately finds the spooky happenings in the house intolerable, and flees to Rebecca again. That ultimately leads the girl and her slightly goofy but charming boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) to take the boy home, but also to agree to stay in the family homestead to calm his fears. Instead, of course, they find themselves in as much peril as he is.

The reason behind the danger is, of course, that shadowy murderous female figure, which turns out—as Rebecca discovers from research material collected by Paul—to be connected to an ill, emotionally disturbed girl named Diana whom Sophie had become close friends with during a childhood stay in a mental institution. The girl died in experimental treatment, but her spirit seems to live on—though whether as an actual ghost or as a projection of Sophie’s disturbed mental state is an open question. Rebecca, Martin and Bret will need to be smart and quick to stay alive, especially when—as one must expect—there’s a power outage.

Lights Out combines elements that are the meat and potatoes of contemporary horror movies—not just a creepy menace and an oddball hook, but also a spunky heroine, a cute kid in peril, and a mildly obtuse but supportive male to provide some support, however ineffectual. But if the ingredients are far from extraordinary, they’re mixed with skill and even a bit of elegance. Still, the  script can’t tie everything together logically, despite an effort to do so via some spectral messages painted on a basement wall toward the close, but director David F. Sandberg skates over the plot holes briskly and delivers the shock moments without resorting to a ton of blood and gore. He also elicits strong performances from all four leads, who earn sympathy even if their characters are sketchily written. Maria Bello exhibits an appropriately haggard air   while Gabriel Bateman avoids the obnoxiously precocity of so many kid actors and Alexander DiPersia proves irresistibly likable, earning gasps that turn to laughs in a last-act chase scene that proves how adeptly the film combines the two. The visual effects by the Aaron Sims Company are genuinely unsettling, and the technical work—by cinematographer Marc Spicer—is topnotch, while Benjamin Wallfisch’s background score ratchets up the tension as required. The canny combination of light, shadow, and sound so integral to the picture’s success is a testament to their teamwork.

Just as Psycho had some audience members avoiding showers more than half a century ago and A Nightmare on Elm Street kept them away in the eighties, Lights Out might leave them leery of dark places in their homes. But though it might lead to an increase in viewers’ electric bills and expenditures on candles and flashlight batteries, the scary fun will be worth it.







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