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It’s Called Lights Out, But You Might Want To Keep Them On

I don’t care how much of a grown-up you think you are, there’s nothing scarier than things that go bump in the night. Like his award-winning short that inspired this film, David F. Sandberg’s first full-length venture capitalizes on our most basic fears, and does it with enough tension and atmosphere to make you never want to turn the lights off again. R.I.P. Hydro bill.

Rebecca’s a moody 20-something (we know this because she she wears a lot of eyeliner and has an Avenged Sevenfold poster on her bedroom wall) living in L.A. She has an extremely beautiful kinda-boyfriend and also has commitment issues—go figure. When her kid brother, Martin, falls asleep in class for the third time that week, Rebecca and not-boyfriend Bret get the call.

Poor Martin has been left to fend for himself in their mom’s huge, gorgeous, terrifying house full of shadowy corners, scary noises and someone (something?) named Diana, who appears only in darkness and never in the light. Through some very easily discovered and conveniently placed boxes Rebecca stumbles across while searching through her mother’s house, we learn that Diana was a psychiatric patient with an extreme sensitivity to light who was supposedly killed in a treatment gone wrong. It’s a nice touch that throughout the movie you never see Diana too clearly—the whole theme of Lights Out centres on our fear of the dark, and just the little glimpses we get are more than enough.

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Rebecca and Bret decide to get involved and Diana doesn’t like that one bit. She needs 100 per cent access to Sophie at all times, and her goal seems to be to separate Sophie from everyone she loves. The co-dependent, manipulative dynamic between Sophie and Diana is reminiscent of an abusive relationship, and watching these kids realize that their mom just needs help is kinda heartbreaking.

Maria Bello’s fantastic performance as Sophie really sold this film for me. Horror movie moms are almost always sad and annoying—and Sophie definitely is. But once we get a glimpse of the depression she’s fighting and the manipulation that Diana is subjecting her to, she becomes way more sympathetic. Diana needs Sophie to survive, and she’s willing to kill to get her way. Standing up to someone like that takes a lot of guts.

Our adorable little trio decides to team up and save Sophie, and themselves, from Diana’s long, creepy grasp. There are some moments during the climax that’ll have you screaming to yourself, “Have more flashlights!” “Candles aren’t reliable!!” “DO NOT SPLIT UP OH MY GOD!!!” But other than that, the conclusion is satisfying and spooky, with just enough of a winky sense of humour to keep things interesting. You gotta love a horror film that can laugh at itself.

Despite some predictable plot points and slightly stereotypical characters, Lights Out is just fun to watch. Atmosphere and tension are what make this movie so effective, and the many jump-scares never feel too cheap. The scary-things-in-the-dark premise is fairly basic, but you bet I slept with the lights on after the screening.

Lights Out haunts theatres Friday, July 22. Check out the trailer below.

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