If you’ve been around here long enough, you know that I love horror films. In fact, I’m a big fan and defender of the genre (even though I still get grossed out by extreme body horror.)
Anywho, it’s funny to me that as a fan of the genre, I can still be a huge weenie. Not eggplant emoji weenie, but fearful weenie. As grown as I think I am, I still watched Lights Out with a hand over my face for the majority of the film. The funny thing is, it’s not that scary. At least, it’s not scary in an ambitious “stuck with me for months and now I question my own existence” way that say Ex Machina, Blade Runner, or Alien can. It’s not even scary in the “I will never, ever think of X thing the same way again” that Nightmare on Elm Street, It Follows, or their ilk are. This is primarily an issue of being a bad carbon copy descendant and/or relative of said films. And, more simply, it’s just a result of Lights Out being entirely focused on one element of fear, and tapping that button feverishly like a sugared-up kid playing on an iPad. But we’ll get to that.
Lights Out is the first wave of the fall horror films coming our way. The story goes, a light-sensitive entity haunts a family in LA. After a set of incidents, it’s clear that the family’s matriarch, Sophie, is somehow involved. So. her estranged daughter, Rebecca, must come home to right the wrongs of the past and save her mother, her little brother Martin, and herself. Oh, and Bret, her side-nigga-cum-late-act-boyfriend. Seriously, Bret is an early-act dickhead who ends up being more loyal, trusting, and unexpectedly insightful than a cartoon dog in a Don Bluth film. Shout out to Bret.
This flick is passable. It’s not trying to bum you out about the existential realities of life. Nor is it a deep dive into the psychology of manic depression and the death of a loved one, like The Babadook. In fact, this film is literally The Babadook-Lite. The Dianadook. Where more artsy-fartsy films, like The Babadook, would dive into these deeper corners of cinema, Lights Out is just here to scare the shit out of you on a predictable timeline and be out within 81 minutes.
How it does this is fascinating in its repetitive simplicity. By fashioning nearly all of its narrative elements as vehicles to the next jump scare, Lights Out has one mission and it drags you through it with the determination of Diana herself. From the setup of highly predictable scenes, to hastily throwing elements from several different stories together in order to explain the monster’s origins, it’s very clear that the film is only concerned with finding ways to scare you. And in each case, its fixation on just tapping your adrenal glands is what pulls through. Even when it’s the 50-leventh time.
When we’re talking about this repetition, I think, at least for my viewing experience, that it works for a very particular reason. The secret sauce here is in fact behind many horror films: sound. In every major scare scene, the following formula equaled me cursing at the screen:
- Start with a normal scene.
- Build up to a noticeable silence.
- More silence.
- Monster attack with associated loud-ass-sting of sound.
It’s so basic. But it works. Which is why you’re sure to see audiences packed into these kind of B-horror films through the year. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, but we do it. And so the good people behind these films keep doing it. It’s like Pavlov’s dog. But with creepy light-sensitive demon phantoms and sweaty hands.
While it’s not fun, it kind of is. Maybe it’s a need to feel something — to experience that weird human thought process of “as much as I know this is fake, my fear is real.” And maybe that’s why we’ll fork over $13 to watch these films over and over again.
You can probably already tell here, but it’s clear that there’s nothing extraordinary about this film. Despite this, it does have its merits, both in what I’ve listed above and okay acting, a child that’s nearly as creepy as the monster, and a depiction of one of the most dependable side-dudes ever. So if you’re looking to jump a few times and run up your light bill for a week, Lights Out is right up your alley.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope