BY ROGER THOMAS
I am proud that Hollywood has discovered that not all horror films have to be violent and bloody. Some films can scare without all the gore.
“Lights Out” is one of those films. Once again, and this has happened several times over the last few months, I kept waiting for the goosebumps to run up my legs and back. This happened frequently during “Lights Out.”
It is a simple story with a few characters. At the opening of the film, there is a man working late along with his assistant. They experience something abnormal, or perhaps paranormal.
The film shifts to a woman and her young son who live in a large home. Is it just the two of them, or is there someone else with them?
The audience also meets an attractive girl who lives in a cheap apartment. She has a boyfriend and he is one of the few weaknesses in the film. These six people have most of the dialogue and are central to the plot.
There are a few supporting players along the way: a social worker, police officers and perhaps one or two more, but ultimately most of the action and thrills are centered around the first six players listed above.
Is the film any good? Many of the scare moments caused a physical reaction within me. This film is frightening often, and is that not what we hope for when we go to this type of film.
Another strength of the movie is the rules keep changing. Once the characters on screen and the members of the audience think they understand what is happening, something changes. That is very effective.
I also liked all the performances. This is not Shakespeare and no actor is going to win an Oscar for a film like “Lights Out.” However, those on screen are very convincing. Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello play daughter and mother, respectively, and both are strong performances, one for her courage and the other for her weakness. Young Gabriel Bateman also delivers fine work as the son of Bello’s character and the half-brother of Palmer’s role. Bateman is also starring in one of the most intriguing series of the summer, “American Gothic.”
The one character that I found lacking was the boyfriend of Palmer’s character. Alexander Dipersia plays Bret. It is not really Depersia’s fault that his performance is not great. He may be a good actor but his dialogue is poorly written.
There is a scene between he and Palmer that just does not seem authentic. And the vehicle he drives does not fit his character at all. Why does a unmarried man in his 20s drive a SUV with video screens on the back of the front seats? He has no one to watch those screens. His clothing does not seem to go with his expensive vehicle. I wish the filmmakers had thought a little more about his character development and his actions.
However, none of that really matters. This film exists to scare. Whenever the film moves away from the scares, which is seldom, it is less. Whenever they are trying to scare, the filmmakers succeed over and over again.
And one other thing, the film is edited well. With a run time of 82 minutes, the films offer all the chills and thrills one needs. I am glad they chose not to try to expand the film with scenes that ultimately would not have been essential and could have possibly ruined the film. One example of that would have been more time with the boyfriend.
Every October I have friends over to watch a scary film. I am not sure when “Lights Out” will come out on DVD, but it is certainly a candidate for the “2016 Scary Movie Night at the Thomas Home.”
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.