Lights Out (2016)
The thing about going to the movies nowadays is that it is very likely you will see trailers for most films coming out in the next month or two, at least in the genre you are currently seeing. If it's a comic book movie, expect to see trailers for the next 5 comic book movies. God forbid you see anything remotely family oriented or dramatic, you will get the most horrible trailers for some of the worst movies you have ever seen, or at least I have ever seen. You see, generally speaking, I try and avoid trailers. To me, most trailers give away far too much plot, and ruin most movies. Did I need to know that Wonder Woman is making an appearance in Batman V Superman? Would I not have enjoyed that piece of shit at least a bit more had that been a surprise? Didn't everyone already plan on seeing it regardless of the fact we all thought it would suck? But when I am sitting in a theater, I cannot not just ignore them, or look away. I have to sit there and watch the stupid trailer, which will most likely just either make me hate the movie more, since it's not something I would ever see, or show me parts of a movie I am already going to see, and spoil the best scenes. The trailers that I love/hate the most are the horror ones. I love them because they let me know about movies I probably don't know are even coming out, but I hate them because they show far too much of the scary stuff in an effort to make you think the whole movie will be scary, even though you mostly likely saw almost every scary scene in the movie.
So a month or two ago I start seeing the trailer for Lights Out. I was impressed with the scariness of the trailer, as most people have some fear of the dark, or more specifically what is hiding in the dark. At some point after seeing the trailer a few times I notice James Wan's name, who wrote and directed the first Saw movie, and had his hand in many other recent horror movies which I have not seen. I liked Saw, so I thought, maybe I should see this. I sent the trailer to a few of my friends who are easily scared, and some of them couldn't even make it through the trailer. Yes, I can be a dick sometimes, but it's fun to scare people! So after seeing this trailer way too many times, I decide I will try and watch this movie even though my expectations for any new horror movie is exceedingly low.
A bit of history about my love of horror movies. I have literally seen horror movies from pretty much every decade and era, and found ones I like in all of them. Obviously like many people, I tend to lean towards certain types or eras, but I try not to be so limited in my views that I think if the movie was released in any year past, let's say 1984, it is going to automatically suck. I do love the old monster movies from the 1950s, the cheesy exploitation ones from the 1960s, the creepy and fucked up ones from the 1970s, the gory slasher films from the 1980s, etc etc. I did not watch a lot of any kind of movies in the 1990s, but by the 2000s I started watching many horror movies from overseas, especially Japan. At this point in America, the PG-13 horror movie became the norm, mostly due to a taming of the violence in horror movies, combined with studios mistaken belief that a PG-13 will make them more money as more kids see horror movies. Thankfully movies like Cabin Fever, Saw, Hostel and the like proved that wrong, and we started seeing movies with a bit more bite in them. This is not to say that a PG-13, or even a PG movie, can't be scary. As much as I like blood and gore, Poltergeist (the original) was a PG movie that ***SPOILER ALERT*** had no deaths in it, but was still damned scary and well made to boot. So when I see a new horror movie, although my expectations may be low, I do try to keep an open mind and enjoy it for what it is, not what I personally want it to be.
Lights Out is a very simple story. If you have seen the trailer you know the gist of the film, and have seen some of the opening scenes. Basically as a woman is shutting down a mannequin factory, she goes to turn off a light, and notices someone standing in the darkness right as she does. She turns the light back on, and they are gone. Turn it off, she sees the person again. On, they disappear. Off one last time, the person is right next to them! Simple, scary and pretty much a completely basic caveman fear we all have to some degree or another. The fear isn't actually of the dark, but what is hiding in it waiting for us. Obviously there is a story to this movie as well, because of movie of jump scares without a plot would be pretty boring. We meet the Dad, who is trying to help Mom with some mental issues she is having, and we meet their child who is worried about Mom. Later, we meet the sister, or half sister, and her boyfriend. It seems like Mom is connected to this thing in the shadows, and this thing is possessive as hell.
There are some really good things about Lights Out. One, it is actually scary on that base kind of level. Two, it is shot amazingly well for a movie that takes place in the dark for much of the time. Flashlights, cell phones, candles and the like make up much of the lighting, and you don't have to be a genius or have made a multi million dollar movie to realize it is not easy to light a movie with so little and still be able to see what is going on. I have complained about numerous movies as of late, like the latest Star Trek, Batman V Superman, etc etc, being way too dark, visually speaking, and being unable to focus on the action. You do not have that problem here, which is amazing since so much is in the dark. Hats off to the director for pulling that off.
The characters are written well enough, though the sister/girlfriend's lack of trust in men and bitchiness is a bit forced, as is her boyfriend's neediness. The Mom is written a bit better, and pulls off the mentally ill Mom thing very well. I felt like Mom and daughter looked a bit too similar, but this is a small complaint. I found the thing in the dark to be scary, but I know there are people who didn't, but that's one of those things you either find scary or you don't. I did.
There are multiple good scenes that were NOT in the trailer, thankfully. Scenes that surprised the audience, both scary and plot wise, and that is part of what made this film for me. Another part that I REALLY enjoyed was the fact that it had a beginning, middle and end. Now, that may sound weird, but so many horror films now start off OK, make it to the middle where things start to level off, and by the end it is like the director/writer didn't know what to do so it just sort of ends, either with no resolution, or with an ending that literally makes no sense and gives no understanding of what you just watched. Sure, horror movies almost always have plot holes, or confusing bits, but the lack of being able to write a proper story to go with what is in your head is a travesty of many a new horror movie.
I want to bring up two things before I wrap this up. One, right as I was getting ready to run out to see this, I was checking showtimes and there were some reviews posted on the right of the computer screen. The reviews were pretty bad, and had I been on the fence about this I would not have seen it. On top of that, complaints about the fact that it was PG-13 were there, which I didn't even realize was the rating before I was leaving. One review said that the movie was practically family friendly. Now, I do not like to give away too much in the way of plot points, but I can assure you, regardless of how many deaths, how much blood and gore, and what was visible on the screen, the themes in this movie are pretty damned dark and depressing and any child with a slightly sensitive nature would be wrecked by this movie. I am sure many a fucked up teen was scared shitless by this movie, so maybe for some this is just a walk in the park, but for many this movie would follow someone for life. That is not a criticism at all, except to criticize the person who said this was practically good for the whole family.
My last point has almost nothing to do with this movie, but the movie business in general. Here is a horror movie, that was made for 5 million dollars, based on a 3 minute short, with no stars in it and a first time director. It has now made 50 million dollars within a couple weeks. I walked out of the movie at the end thinking this was a good, solid movie, almost very good, and I would like to see another installment of it. I walked across the hall, and then caught the Thursday preview screening of Suicide Squad, a movie that was hyped beyond belief, and cost 175 million dollars, not counting a marketing campaign which probably cost more than the movie itself. When I left the theater after that, I also felt it was a good movie, but not very good or great, which is what I would expect from 175 million dollars. The insanity of the big name stars, the expensive sets, the costly popular songs, and the need for a movie to break a billion dollars to be considered a success is both disgusting and annoying. I get the difference in genres, costs, expectations, but there is no reason for Will Smith to be in this movie commanding a ridiculous salary. When Robert Downey Jr. was in the first Iron Man, he didn't get the job because he was a superstar. He BECAME a superstar who deserves a ridiculous salary to be Iron Man now, because he made that character who he is. He was a known actor who might not have been an unknown, but he was not a household name like Will Smith. I feel way better seeing a movie like Lights Out which at the very least is somewhat of an original idea, with newer and less known actors, than watching overblown movies with overpaid salaries and actors who we all know. Marvel built that franchise from the ground up, while DC is trying to buy their way in with Ben Affleck and Will Smith. Rant over. (I may have to add this rant to my Suicide Squad review).
All in all, Lights Out was a pleasant and much needed surprise for me, especially when it comes to horror movies. I am very glad I caught this before it left the theaters.
7 out of 10 stars.
Location : United Artists Kaufman Astoria 14, theater 9, Queens, NYC
Date and time : Thursday, August 4th, 2016 at 9 PM
Format : DCP
Audience : 30-40 people, many of them scared and/or screaming, a few laughs, people seemed to really enjoy it. Amazingly very few cell phone users, for such a young crowd.