Review: Cheap scares, noisy cues in so-so ‘Lights Out’

Bare bones horror film gets its fair share of scares, but they don’t last once the lights are up

Adam Graham

“Lights Out” might make you jump, the same way you’d jump if someone came up behind you and blasted an airhorn in your ear. Yes, jump scare achieved. But that’s about it.

“Lights Out” is a pretty minimalist, base-level example of 2016 horror. It’s based on director David F. Sandberg’s 2013 short film that ran under three minutes and told the story of a woman who sees a shadowy figure in the dark every time she switches off a light. The feature version is fleshed out by screenwriter Eric Heisserer, but the essentials remain: When the lights go off, the figure appears. Boo!

Here we have the story of Martin (Gabriel Bateman), a child who can’t get a wink of sleep. That’s because his mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), is deeply haunted by a slim, shady being that appears in the darkness and keeps scratching up wood surfaces with her wicked nails.

Martin goes to live with his older sister, Rebecca (Theresa Palmer, “Warm Bodies”), but the figure — whom we learn is named Diane — isn’t far behind. Haunts ensue, as do blaringly loud music cues; Diane’s appearances are usually marked by bursts of music so loud they would make Motörhead’s Lemmy flip around in his grave and politely ask the volume be turned down.

“Lights Out” comes from the assembly line of producer James Wan, who, with his “Conjuring” and “Insidious” movies, has made home-based horror the genre’s leading trend this decade. As if the housing market isn’t scary enough.

There isn’t a whole lot to “Lights Out”; there’s some backstory about how Diane was Sophie’s childhood friend, but do you care? The scares are cheap, but they’re frequently effective, the same way that if you’re hungry junk food might fill you up. It doesn’t mean you’ll feel good about it later.

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‘Lights Out’


Rated PG-13 for terror throughout, violence including disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content

Running time: 81 minutes