★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by David Sandberg and produced by James Wan
The tweens are taking over! Hollyweird has handed over the castle keys to a gaggle of focused-grouped 13 year-olds. Scary films are now purposely trying to not be scary. All is lost.
Let’s be honest. This is nothing new. Hollyweird has had a long-standing tradition of targeting that almighty tween dollar. Horror of Party Beach. Teenage Zombies. I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. Monster on the Campus. Teenagers from Outerspace. This tween terror trend is nothing new. It’s a freaky conundrum that’s existed for ever, and it’s one that carries on with 2016’s Lights Out.
Directed by David Sandberg (Annabelle Creation and Shazam), Lights Out really is the ultimate gateway film. There’s no swearing, no nudity, and no gore. There is a bong. Does that count? Eitherway, Sandberg concocts an interesting tale about about disturbed young woman (Diana) with an awful nasty skin condition. She’s not a vampire, but she doesn’t do too well with light — hence Lights Out. Diana, it turns out, has been haunting Sophie (Maria Bello), the matriarch of a family for several decades. Diana, maybe in cahoots with Sophie, has been murdering and/or causing the disappearance of Sophie’s husbands. He children are fed up with Diana’s ghostly hauntings and the family dynamic comes to a head when Sophie’s youngest son, Martin (Gabriel Bateman — Childs Play) begins regularly passing out at school from ghost-induced lack of sleep.
The school contacts Martin’s step sister, the decidedly faux-metalhead, Rebecca (Theresa Palmer), to help Martin get a good night of sleep. After a chilling visit by Diana, Rebecca and her faux metalhead squeeze Brett (Alexander DiPersia) decide that it just might be in their best interest to make sure that Martin is safe and sound and away from the clutches of Sophie’s psychotic sickness. Brett and Rebecca head off to investigate the house that Diana’s been haunting. A little research here, and a couple of spooky audio cassettes from the loony bin, and Rebecca’s cracked the case! Turns out her step Dad, Sophie’s murdered husband, had uncovered a vast pile of case files from the institution where Diana and Sophie first met.
Diana was extra-weird way before she turned in to a ghost. She had a peculiar skin condition, a gravely voice, she burrowed in to people’s heads, and she was EVIL! Diana manufactured a parasitic relationship with Sophie and no matter how hard she tried Sophie just couldn’t escape the clutches of this tortured friendship. Brett, Martin, and Rebecca decide that the only way for Diana to escape this lunacy is to get her back on her medication so that she can fight the diabolical Diana.
The trio, armed with flashlights, candles, iPhones, and lightbulbs descend on the house to do away with Diana once and for all. We won’t spoil the ending here, but safe to say Lights Out radically moves from a solid PG to a hard R in one fell swoop.
Lights Out mostly lingers on the screen like an ABC After School Special. The acting is largely flat, the metalheads aren’t terribly metal, and the scares never really come out to play. Which is not to say that there aren’t any scares. There’s a couple doozies packed away, but unfortunately it’s just a couple. The scares don’t last and there’s very little dread that runs through the film.
But that’s not really the point is it? No. Lights Out is a tween gateway film and on that note it pretty well succeeds. I have a feeling 13 year-old me would have been quaking in his boots and regaling my pals with a complete blow-by-blow of the freaky shadow monster that is Diana. Problem is, 13 was a long time ago.
Lights Out is PG-13 and streaming at Amazon.