Lights Out is one of those rare summer horror movies that isn’t complete garbage. Mind you, it’s predictable because it follows the jump-scare horror movie formula, utilizes lazy exposition to describe the origins of its monster, and occasionally veers into the melodramatic with its acting. But the story of Lights Out isn’t just some “Oh, no! A scary ghost who only appears when it’s dark at night!” Nope. It’s a surprisingly deep representation of what it’s like living with depression and how it hurts the people around you.
So here’s the story…Martin (Gabriel Bateman) hasn’t been sleeping at night because his mom Sophie (Maria Bello) stopped taking her anti-depressants and has been talking to a shadowy figure named Diana who only appears in the darkness. After his school notices he’s been falling asleep in class, they call his sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) to come get him. Rebecca argues with Sophie about taking her medication and takes Martin from Sophie, causing Diana to start terrorizing them wherever they go. At some point, Rebecca and her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) discover that Diana was a girl Sophie met while in a mental institution, and Diana latched onto Sophie in death. Together, Rebecca, Martin, and Bret try to figure out a way to fight back against Diana and return Sophie to the light.
Note that the movie points out that Sophie’s medication is anti-depressants, not anti-psychotics. Yeah, Diana is a metaphor for depression. She’s attached to Sophie, only appearing when Sophie doesn’t take her medicine. She keeps Sophie in darkness, as well as away from her family. And she stops Sophie from taking her medicine and violently lashes out at Sophie’s family whenever they try to help her fight her depression. Especially once you see the ending, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a pretty obvious Diana = Sophie’s depression.
A depression metaphor might not sound like it’s that scary, but the feeling of being stuck in the darkness with something that wants to hurt you will stick with you after you leave the movie, regardless of whether you suffer from depression or not. I told myself it wasn’t scary, but then I didn’t fall asleep until 2am. Damn dark corners!
Also, I promise that Diana will freak you out. The actress who plays her, Alicia Vela-Bailey, does a great job with the hunched-over, jumping-out-at-you creepiness. And the fact that they chose to never really show her face makes her that much scarier. It’s a great tactic I wish more horror films would use (because your imagination can come up with things much scarier than makeup or CGI can). Her voice, however, is comically bad, which takes away from the scare factor. Thankfully, you don’t hear it until the end.
This is a great start for director David F. Sandberg, whose career has consisted of short films up until this point (In fact, this movie is based on a short film he did called Lights Out). It helps that he has writer Eric Heisserer (A Nightmare on Elm Street and Final Destination 5) and producer James Wan (The Conjuring, Saw, Insidious) behind him, both of whom have been working in horror filmmaking for a while. I can’t wait to see what Sandberg comes up with in the future.