Welcome to Network Zero Watchlist – a (hopefully) regular diary of every horror movie we’ve suffered through for better or worse. First watches, rewatches, timely revisitations of old favourites, anything goes.
The opening sequence of Lights Out is pretty standard, though enhanced by an interesting location (mannequins are universally creepy, right? I mean, we’ve all seen that Kim Cattrall movie). But it has the disadvantage of showing the cards a little too early. Though it could be argued that the antagonist isn’t instantly revealed – she only appears in the dark, as per the overarching gimmick – the first sighting is much more than a glimpse, which kind of ruins any notion of suspense.
Meanwhile, 40-something mom Sophie is talking to an imaginary friend, disturbing her young son Martin from his sleep. She’s off her meds, which gives us the traditional scary movie explanation for weirdness. Her elder daughter, Rebecca, is concerned about Martin’s welfare, but too late: he’s already seeing a creature in the shadows.
Things pick up slightly when Martin goes to stay with Rebecca – she witnesses aforementioned creature in the doorway, and the resulting image is one of the creepiest ones in the film. (Sidenote: I like Rebecca’s style. She owns a Slayer poster and is wearing a skull ring when she finds something strange under the living room rug. It’s nice to see Alt Types not portayed only as villains, quirky friends or cannon fodder).
Science and fantasy merge as the story unfolds; I enjoy stuff like this so I can’t pretend it was too disappointing. The use of mental health as a plot device, however, is both neatly symbolic and frustratingly paint-by-numbers in nature. Diana – the monster – is, essentially, Sophie’s personal demon – a one-time asylum patient herself, morphed into a malevolent spirit thanks to experimental treatments. Sophie’s illness perpetuates Diana’s presence, so she needs to conquer her own psychological state. This could have been an empowering metaphor, if not for the nosedive ending – redemption and freedom by way of sacrifice. Sure, Sophie had some stuff to atone for, but she wasn’t a lost cause – and it seemed a sudden finale that didn’t need to be so rushed. Maybe she was secretly waiting for such an opportunity to escape her misery, but her earlier attitude didn’t suggest this kind of ideation.
Despite its shortcomings, Lights Out remains a decent first-watch: it doesn’t stand up as much to repeat viewings. The thing is, it’s based on a three-minute short which is pretty excellent by itself. The feature-length’s strengths lie in certain scare moments – the blacklight scene is a great one – and solid acting, particularly from the two female leads. There’s already a sequel in development, which I’m hoping won’t consist of repetition – if nothing else, the abrupt credit roll made me crave just a little more closure.
Network Zero Score: 3/5.