Sometimes you see a trailer that works and you convinced beyond your better judgment that the film being advertised will live up to the 130 seconds you just watched. Lights Out could have been one of those experiences, if only it had sustained the opening segment of the movie. As happens all to often with horror films, once you get past introducing the premise, the screenwriter hasn’t figured out where to go.
This is a ghost story with an good concept to begin with. The spook can only be seen in the dark and bright lights are exactly the kind of protection that every frightened kid imagines them to be. The real nightmare of the story however is the notion that mental illness has taken hold of the person you are dependent on and love, but there is nothing you can do about it. A young boy and his older half sister, who has moved out because of these reasons, must try to cope with a system designed by legal experts rather than mental health professionals. If this had been a bigger part of the story, the idea could be sustained. This is a scare flick so suspense comes from jump cuts and creepy sounds rather than the mental horror of coping with a sick loved one.
The set up is fine as I said. An early spirit attack puts the boy in the awkward position of having to question his mom’s sanity. He turns to the estranged sister but her hands are somewhat tied by the legal system. They try to get past those hurdles but the boogeyman interrupts. Drama turns into mechanical fear of the dark and what sudden thing we will see. When explanations are proffered, the story starts to lose credibility and the answers make no sense anyway. It turns into a game of hide and seek with the spirit, and someone turns the lights off.
Surprisingly with a female lead, and a theme strongly dependant on Mom, the most appealing characters are the two guys. The young brother gets our sympathy and he is the one with the most sense in the film. A casual boyfriend, who thinks that the relationship is more than that, is given a more appealing character than our heroine. The mother is creepy at the right times, but the background provided to explain the haunting is so thin, it doesn’t really work. Mom got the short stick on character. Our lead, Teresa Palmer, does really try to deal with the situation as a real person might, but because her character is supposed to be rebellious and an isolate, it is sometimes hard to believe the things she is asked to do on behalf of the family she left.
The secret to the haunting is convoluted, preposterous, and not well explained. The discovery of the truth requires some pretty fantastic luck to start with. The more that it gets talked about though, the less sense it makes. The resolution to the plot depends on a psychic twist that is not well set up and is completely un-examined but it is the end of the story and no additional stinger is added to get a last minute jump. I did like the fact that it ends like a real story and not a horror film trope.