- Movie Rating -

Lights Out (2016)

| July 14, 2016

Is it odd to suggest that a movie that only runs 81 minutes might need trimming?  That thought occurred to me all through Lights Out a nugatory little horror outing that has a clever premise but is padded out with loads of uninteresting characters and family drama that, truth be told, only gets in the way.  Maybe it should have stayed a short, or gone through a serious re-write.

I looked this up; according to the American Film Institute, a film has to be 40 minutes in length to be considered a feature film.  Any shorter than that and it is considered a short.  Lights Out could easily have run 40 minutes and it would have been fine.  At 81 minutes it runs out of things to say and we have to suffer through great heaping gobs of padding that nearly put this critic to sleep.

Again, the premise is clever.  A group of people are menaced by a malevolent spirit that can only manifest when you turn off the lights.  Obviously it doesn’t have to be completely dark otherwise we in the audience wouldn’t be able to see it, but if you’re standing in semi-dark you’re a goner.  Obviously this raises some issues.  How do you keep the house in total darkness at all hours of the night?  Lamps?  Candles?  Fluorescent lights?  Flashlights?  Street Lights?  Bright ideas?  What happens when the power goes out?

Lights Out is an extended revision of a pretty good 2013 short film directed by the same man David Sandberg.  He opens the film on a scene that feels, in and of itself, like a short.  We’re in a textile warehouse late at night with the manager named Paul (Billy Burke) who is taking inventory.  As one of his employee heads out for the evening she turns off the lights in the office only to see the shape of a woman standing in the opposite doorway.  When she turns the lights back on, the woman disappears.  She flips the lights off and back on several times until the audience gives in to the temptation to laugh at the repetition.  The ghost, in some form or another, attacks the woman and eventually goes after Paul.

If the movie had stayed on that path, we’d have a better movie.  Unfortunately we are then introduced to the textile manager’s family.  We meet Rebecca (Teresa Palmer, the good-hearted blonde in Warm Bodies) and her little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman).  Their mother Sophie (Maria Bello) is suffering a mental breakdown since a recent death in the family and is acting erratically, screaming and talking to people who aren’t there.  Naturally the kids are concerned.

There are a lot of skeletons in the closet for this family.  There’s a lot of history that hangs over them like a dark cloud.  There are a lot of dark corners to their relationships.  There are a lot of unexplored chapters to their lives.  There are a lot times during this family drama that I was checking my watch because in a ghost story WHO COULD CARE?!?  What do I care about why the daughter won’t talk to her parents?  Why do I care that the kids and Paul had a strained relationship?  Why do I care that Rebecca won’t commit to her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) even though he’s obviously The Greatest Boyfriend On the Face of the Earth?

Maybe if the characters were a little more defined, or maybe if they had some defining personalities I could get involved in their plight.  But this is a movie that opens with a ghost that only appears when you flip off the lights.  Who could care about half-written relationships?  I lean on this only because this takes up a bulk of the film’s running time and, honestly, I was bored to tears.

The boring stuff fills up a long section in the middle of the movie.  That leaves the bookends for the ghost.  The opening scene and the third act are really quite good.  I loved the scenes at the end when Rebecca and Martin and Bret find themselves trapped in Sophie’s house at night trying a myriad of ways to keep the lights on. I loved how ingenious those scene in the house were especially when the ghost inexplicably figures out how to cut the power.  Those scenes work and the audience in the theater where I saw it were eating it up.  Why couldn’t the rest of the movie be this much fun?  Why does the movie have to fill the time with silly explanations and back stories?

I saw Lights Out as a special screening this past Thursday just before going to see the new Ghostbusters movie.  The only reason that I didn’t write this review on Friday morning is that I had forgotten having seen it.  Four whole days have passed and it was only this afternoon that the movie popped back in my memory.  That’s how forgettable this movie is.  It’s deadly boring.  What is interesting is that the studio is brave enough to open this film on the same weekend as two powerhouse sequels, Ice Age: Collision Course and Star Trek Beyond.  Everyone will be going to see one of those, but please don’t try to be clever and take the road less traveled.  See one of those.  Lights Out will waiting for you in about five months on basic cable.  You can wait, you’ll be glad you did.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2016) View IMDB Filed in: Horror