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Review: Lights Out Is A Terrifying Paranormal Chiller With A Deeper Meaning

Lights Out Movie - Alicia Vela-Bailey

Lights Out is a clever, arguably quite trailblazing, thriller that intertwines an eerie, creepy premise with a heartfelt message about mental illness. The story centers on Sophie (Maria Bello), and how her mental disease appears to have manifested into a sort of living creature that begins tearing her family apart.

The movie starts out strong, with an intense opening sequence that introduces the first of many victims who will be taken by the malevolent spirit manifesting as a dark woman lurking in the shadows. She makes her first appearance quickly, which breaks the usual tradition of most paranormal thrillers waiting for the climax to reveal the monster.

However, her onscreen debut in the first twenty minutes does not feel forced and instead establishes the clever pacing of Lights Out. Keeping in tone with most films of this ilk, as well as the appearance of the monster, the scene is complete with creepy mannequins, a couple of well-placed jump scares, and a particularly gruesome death.

Elsewhere, the rest of Lights Out’s main characters are surprisingly complex and likeable. Sophie’s children Rebecca (Warm Bodies’ Teresa Palmer) and Martin (Gabriel Bateman from Annabelle) are different generations separated by a stepfather, but experience the same terrors that their mother’s mania brings. Older sister Rebecca whisks Martin away from their mother only to find that the nightmares which haunt the siblings are not just make believe.


Additionally, while Palmer is fine in her role as the eldest child who protects her brother at any cost, Bateman is a surprisingly enjoyable child actor in his own right, who portrays genuine reactions. When confronted with the dark, shadowy woman Martin shakes and screams with all the conviction of a terrified child. Many horror movies suffer from hiring milquetoast child actors who completely miss the mark in how real kids react to the fanatical and horrifying, but Lights out really hit the mark on this one.

Speaking of the shadowy woman, who we come to know as Diana, her aesthetic combines older ideas of a creature lurking in the dark and a more modern Grudge meets Insidious-style feel. Not only is she extremely creepy looking, but her eerie silhouette is matched by grotesque, unnatural movements accompanied by the horrible sound of bones creaking and cracking.

And, besides a later reveal in how she really looks, Diana also has glinting, grey-white eyes that seem to bore into every character she comes across. Diana may even, over time, develop into a terrifying creature to rival that of paranormal hits such as Paranormal Activity and The Ring.

Lights Out is well aware of its own pacing and is consistent with its timing, jump-scares, how it builds tension, and when it decides to give viewers a break. The movie is pretty fast paced, but in a manner that keeps the story going and minds how its audience is waiting to be terrified by Diana and her antics. There are a couple of nonsensical moments, of course, but Lights Out does a consistently good job of driving the plot forward throughout.

Diana spirit in Lights Out

While this is still, ostensibly, a horror movie, an overarching theme raised its head in the beginning that draws a parallel to the main story. Similarly, in The Babadook, the mother is presented in a way in which the titular creature can be read as either a real monster that she dealt with or an emotional manifestation of her grief in the wake of losing her husband. Similarly, in Lights Out, Diana can be seen dually as the actual battle with the monster herself OR the struggle of young children dealing with a parent who is mentally ill.

The only real complaint about the movie is that, while Diana herself is fairly original, the concept of keeping a monster away with light so you can sleep is not unique to Lights Out. While it is still fairly enjoyable, it does give off a serious Darkness Falls vibe that has to be consciously ignored throughout.

However, overall, Lights Out does its job well as a paranormal thriller to be enjoyed in theaters with screaming audiences. It will certainly fill you with the jump scares and chills that you desire. However, this is not the next, most exciting horror movie blockbuster it’s being made out to be. And, considering it counts from James Wan, the genius director of Insidious, Dead Silence, and the first Saw movie, as a producer this is doubly disappointing.

So, if you’re seeking out a movie bringing an entirely new concept to the table, you can skip this one. But, if you are looking for a fun film that will scare your pants off in the theater with friends, but not exactly keep you up at night afterwards, Lights Out should definitely be on your list.


Director(s): David F. Sandberg
Writer(s): David F. Sandberg, Eric Heisserer
Stars: Mario Bello, Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Billy Burke
Studio/ Production Co: New Line Cinema
Release date: July 22nd, 2016
Language: English
Length: 81 minutes
Sub-genre: Paranormal

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Written by Syl
Syl is a professional criminologist who shamelessly spends her time listening to true crime podcasts, watching horror films, and bringing real life horror to her written pieces.
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