I’ll just get right down to it: I was pumped for this film ever since I found out it was actually a thing. The short-film was an artistic marvel—like many other YouTube horror short-films I’ve seen—and so, I thought, what could possibly get lost in translation?
Well, I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped I would. It’s a PG-13 film, meaning that some of the more intense stuff was cut to get that wider audience. Already, that’s a red flag in my book; I know other horror connoisseurs who would say that a rating doesn’t matter, but it really does. Films like this don’t need to be brought before a review board, prior to their release. The Babadook (a parallel I’ll be using in this review) was labeled “Not Rated”—in other words, it wasn’t viewed by a ratings board and slapped with a letter grade, and I feel that it was better off for it. Art for art’s sake.
My second qualm with this film is the direction—both from a filmmaking and story-telling standpoint. David Sandberg, whom also directed the YouTube short-film of the same name, told this crash-course story within the first half-hour of the film (which was, basically, the trailer). The original short had no dialogue, was told within a three-minute window, and offered up a better ending jump than any that this big screen adaptation delivered throughout its 81-minute runtime. It was like Alma from F.E.A.R. and Slenderman were both pulled-from inspiration for this Diana character…but with none of the scare factor of either.
The acting, as well, seemed forced. A lot of the audience in the theatre was laughing—pretty often—throughout the feature, which is something you don’t want happening in a “scary” movie. But if Sandberg was looking to make a horror parody, he and his team didn’t quite make that mark, either. The scenes were poorly-constructed, the camerawork made it feel like the director was filming on a camcorder, expository dialogue was shoved down our throats—a few times, in some cases (we get it already…)—and what normally would have been nice, constructive character banter in any other film was shaved down into only what was needed to serve the “plot”. The score was almost entirely absent—which is fine, in cases like The Babadook, where that level of discomfort plays into the narrative and headspace of the characters—but not here. There was none of that “creeping terror”, either, as this film relied on the exhausted “jump scare” technique much too often.
Bret (Alexander DiPersia), the boyfriend of protagonist Becca (Teresa Palmer), was my favorite part of this film. It’s like he knows he’s in a horror film and does all the stuff that any capable individual would do in his situation, which is act rather than be acted upon; there’s one scene towards the end where you’ll see exactly what I mean. It was cool to see Lotta Losten, the same actress that collaborated with Sandberg on the short-film, briefly in this one—spoiler-free emphasis on “briefly”—but she’s really all the echoes of the original short that there are.
Lights Out gets a ‘Risk Assessment of **/*** from me. A mid-grade horror film that tries too hard to out-scare its inspiration.