Looking Back on 2010s Films: Lights Out (2016)

1 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back on 2010s Films, here’s a horror film from the director of “Shazam!”

“Lights Out” is based on director David F. Sandberg’s 3-minute horror short of the same name. It became so popular online that it gained the attention of James Wan, who got him a deal to get a feature version made.

The concept: in the light, you’re safe; in the dark, you’re screwed. How do you turn that into a solid hour-and-a-half feature?

Well, the answer is quite simple–go beyond the gimmick. Give us characters. Give us a story. Give us something to think about. THEN you can creep us out. (Oh, and as a bonus, make it short–like, just barely 80 minutes.)

The film is atmospheric and creepy and gave me chills at times. But it’s about something much more…

The supernatural being in “Lights Out” represents depression–those who live with it and those who try to help cope. In this case, depression takes the form of a dark-dwelling creature that controls and manipulates a widowed mother (Maria Bello) and pushes aside (and kills) anyone tries to help her. The mother knows what this thing is doing to her, but she feels utterly powerless to do anything about it and simply tries to live with it, as hard as it is. She has a pre-teenage son (Gabriel Bateman), who is scared awake by the fact that his mother is not just talking to herself late at night. (That’s a refreshing take, by the way–in this particular horror film, the little kid is AFRAID of the “imaginary friend!” Why do kids in horror movies just ACCEPT demonic presences in the house?)

He asks for help from his older half-sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who left home as soon as she could. She’s somewhat irresponsible and reckless and especially standoffish, but she knows she’s the boy’s only hope. She knows about “Diana,” the monster who haunted her as a child, and brushed it off as a manifestation of her guilt towards her mother. But now it’s clear that Diana is real and now Rebecca has to do something about it.

We have an interesting character arc in Rebecca learning to accept the responsibility of protecting Martin, the half-brother, and trying to help her mother through what she realizes is darker than she initially thought. And she also learns to let other people into her life, such as her kinda-sorta boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia), who remains devoted to Rebecca despite her seeming unable to let him in. (This guy’s my favorite character in the film–rather than become the jerky dead-meat boyfriend you see in many horror films, Bret is actually loyal, smart, and lives to see the end of the film.)

And with the mother, we have an interesting performance from Maria Bello as a traumatized, grieving, depressed mother who tries to protect her children from what’s ailing her…even trying to make them part of it, under the impression that the thing won’t harm them if they join it.

Now…I’m going to talk about the ending. SPOILER WARNING!!!!

The theatrical ending for “Lights Out” is controversial. Many audience members were turned off by the resolution, which involved the mother committing suicide to rid herself and her kids of the monster. People thought the film promoted suicide. Director Sandberg originally shot a second ending (which is included on the film’s BluRay), in which after the fact, Rebecca went through the process of adopting Martin before Martin became depressed, causing Diana to come back again before she is killed. Test audiences hated it because it meant the mother’s sacrifice would have been in vain. Sandberg himself suffers from depression (and one of his friends has killed himself), and he did go on record saying that he wanted to make less of a horror film and more of an allegory for depression and mental illness. He never wanted to promote suicide at all. And he did express remorse for the way audiences felt about the theatrical ending.

You can find out more about that in this interview.

Maybe if Sandberg makes a sequel to “Lights Out,” he can expand on the idea of this thing taking over someone’s life and the numerous options of what can be done to combat it.

I’d definitely be interested in seeing that.

Also, check out the short. It’s pretty creepy: https://vimeo.com/82920243

One Response to “Looking Back on 2010s Films: Lights Out (2016)”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Prepping for My Top 20 Films of the 2010s | Smith's Verdict - November 26, 2019

    […] VVitch,” “Split,” “The Babadook,” “Green Room,” “Lights Out,” “Hereditary,” “The Gift,” “Gerald’s Game,” “It […]

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