Despite my enjoyment of the original short, I was not impressed with the trailers for LIGHTS OUT, which made it look like just another jump-scare laden, run-of-the- mill, exercise in mediocrity. To my surprise the pre-release buzz was overwhelmingly positive, and since I got chance to see it for free thanks to a screening pass, I had nothing to lose, and as it turns out Lights Out is one of the biggest surprises of the year. Is it still filled with jump scares? Absolutely, but these types of scares are not of the cheap variety. And what's most impressive is how debuting writer/director David F. Sandberg is able to repeat essentially the same scare over and over, but keeping each one fresh, exciting, and inventive. Save for many that have been spoiled in the advertising, it's the many more that haven't been shown that are the cream of the crop. Lights Out got me to scream out loud on more than one occasion, something The Conjuring 2 was unable to do. Ironically, Lights Out is produced by James Wan (director of The Conjuring franchise) and Sanberg outdoes him again and again, both in legit scares and intensity, a perfect amount of humor sprinkled throughout that isn't cringe inducing, and a visual style all his own that is at times flat out dazzling. Even if the film hadn't been as successful as it is, the technical aspects are faultless.
Still, there are some flaws to be found. It's increasingly apparent that the frightening set pieces were at the forefront of importance when the script was being written, with the character and story depth taking a back seat. Though we do end up caring for these characters, it's mostly through their convincing performances rather than the writing itself. The origin story to the antagonist Diana feels rushed and a bit confused. We understand that something 'very bad happened' to her, and that there was some kind of accident.
But unless I was zoning out, we don't get enough explanation as to what exactly happened and who she was, or why she turned out the way she did beyond the bare-minimum. The attempt at strained familial bonds and mental illness reminds one of The Babadook lite at times, but unfortunately Lights Out never reaches the level of that film's' thematic weight (save for a rather unforeseen turn at at end).
Essentially, the story is nothing more than a clothesline to hang upon what the audience came for, the horror and thrills. These aspects certainly could have been a lot worse, and they don't necessarily drag the film too far down, but a second draft and more fleshing out would have been welcome.
With that being said, Lights Out plays for a while as a solidly executed, entertaining, if not quite extraordinary horror for its first two thirds. Entertaining enough, but aside from the opening and a few scenes here and there, I was wondering why the film was being so hyped up (as of this writing it still holds a 100% score on RottenTomatoes with 13 reviews and counting). But the best is certainly saved for last. The final sequence is where the goods come and where the film raises itself up on onto another level. I'm telling you, it is absolutely RELENTLESS in it's escalating insanity, genuine suspense, thrills upon thrills upon thrills, and some great moments that had me both laughing and jolting in my chair. It's nothing short of exhilarating, and seeing it in a packed theater only adds to the fun.
This finale is where the director finally goes full throttle and doesn't let up until the final shot. It makes a good film into a damned near-great one, especially for horror fans. The use of lighting is also tops, as the vicious monster can never appear in light, the different sources of light- from a lit candle, a fluorescent black light, head lights, flashlights, even gun shots- are all used ingeniously. The same goes for the darkness, as every time a light bulb flickers, or we are suddenly thrown into pitch black darkness, all one can do is hold their breath and grip their chair. As you know some bad news is about to go down. It really dives into that primal, childhood fear of the dark and may conjure up a few bad memories or two. I can't express it enough, the finale is worth the price of admission alone.
Ultimately, while it may not be on the same level of my favorite horror films of the year (The Neon Demon, The Wailing, The Witch, to name a few.) Lights Out is pure popcorn munching horror fun. Ridiculously entertaining, gorgeously executed, and just a great time at the theater. Time will tell if it holds up on repeated viewings, but for now I definitely recommend every horror fan to give this one a watch opening weekend, preferably at night, in the most packed theater one can find. I eagerly await whatever David F. Sandberg does next.