Director David F. Sandberg and wife Lotta Losten scared up a storm with their short Lights Out back in 2013, using the greatest tool of them all to play on all of our fears: the dark. And as this short became a phenomenon at festivals and was shared at an alarming rate on social media, its popularity was astounding. Thankfully, Sandberg was given a chance to flex his chops as a full feature director and in turn transformed his chilling little nugget into a studio horror film which, alongside this year’s The Conjuring 2, is one of the year’s best.

When Martin (Gabriel Bateman) begins experiencing the same events that tested the sanity of his older sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), they both work to unlock the terror that appears to have latched itself onto their ill mother, Sophie (Maria Bello).

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Lights Out opens in a cavernous, dark and expressively gloomy textile factory where every corner is littered with mannequins and silence fills the void. Immediately, director Sandberg has hands thrown firmly over faces as his tool, the dark, is used to preposterously successful effect. There doesn’t need to be an ominous figure looming in the unknown for dread to slowly creep, so when one does appear you can count on all bets being off if you think you’ll be surviving this unscathed.

When the initial opening scare passes, characters are introduced that form an unlikely bond and likability in a film of this genre. Much like last year’s arguably overrated The Babadook, the film deals with family dynamics that are strewn by mental illness, thus the creation of the terror that looms progressing an unimaginable mental state. An unhinged and delicate mother figure is protected by her young as they attempt to sift through a mixed bag of generic jump scares and genuine fright to relinquish the evil that’s latched itself onto the family. There’s a desperate discovery for some sort of turn around of events or twist but as simple as the resulting factor is it’s okay, because between the increasingly problematic challenges of attempting to find a light source or keeping both eyes peered around every darkened corner, there’s a story here worth investing. Just expect to be jolted from said narrative every now and again.

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The fear of the dark is universal. Really, it’s the most exploitive tool you could possibly use in a horror. But Sandberg’s fresh capabilities are rife. His attempts are clear and his film thrives with it. Exciting set pieces (note: yes, the house used in Lights Out is the same house from Ouija) and a genuinely frightening villain, whose physical form is thankfully kept mostly hidden, keeps the film afloat. Flickers between the light and the the dark sees characters thrown, dropped and sprawled with an alarming ferocity that beacons the creative palate of this newcomer’s able mind.

Much like Sandberg’s shorts, Lights Out will undoubtedly give you the chills. The runtime is practically perfect; it immediately hits a home run come the opening scene and hereafter nothing feels overly filler. A short turned into one of the year’s most effective and genuinely frightening horror pics, it’s a rare occurrence that i can only hope spans Sandberg’s career into a long-winding one.

4/5

Dir: David F. Sandberg

Scr: Eric Heisserer

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Alexander DiPersia, Billy Burke

Prd: Lawrence Grey, Eric Heisserer, James Wan

Music: Benjamin Wallfisch

DOP: Marc Spicer

Country: USA

Runtime: 81 minutes