On the face of it, making a watchable horror movie should not be a difficult endeavor. Men (and women) are easy to scare. People get scared by the dead, darkness, the unknown, strange creatures, weird noises, unnatural events and Donald Trump. Even then, coming across a good horror movie can often be as rare as finding a bloodied corpse talking a walk along Marine Drive in the middle of the day.
It turns out a lot can go wrong while making a horror movie. At times, they can go overboard on blood and gore, which while having its own genre-fans are not really that scary. At times, the makers of horror movies get distracted by unnecessary plot elements (like romance between the two leading actors), fail to build a credible plot line (it is not that easy to explain the presence of a supernatural element) or fail to get beyond clichéd horror movie tropes (like separating a naive, beautiful, young lady from the pack and getting her killed). Most often though, the ghost or the paranormal creature itself is of run-of-the-mill kind, an unsatisfied undead who wants to come back to seek revenge for some unjust acts. The presence of such conventional other-wordly antagonists often leads to a predictable storyline and a hackneyed climax where the ghost finally gets her revenge or is driven away after the services of an exorcist/poltergeist/ghost buster are employed. Which sadly ensures that the thrill and scare elements are often lost in the movie maker’s quest to provide a satisfactory climax to the enterprise.
Fortunately, ‘Lights Out’ is an extremely well edited, tight-knit movie that does not fall prey to these distractions and remains unerringly true to its objective of scaring the hell out of its audience. It does so primarily by delivering plenty of jump scare moments. It wastes hardly any time in establishing a background story and does not tie itself in knots in an attempt to come up with a fool-proof, logically convincing storyline. Its running time, at around 81 minutes is perfect for a movie of its kind. The number of characters is limited to four. And it ensures that there is hardly a frame in the entire movie, starting from the beginning sequence and extending till the epilogue, where the audience can rest easy with the knowledge that there will not be a blood-curling spine-chilling surprise, waiting ready to scare the living daylights out of them.
Part of the success of ‘Lights Out’ also lies in coming up with an extremely effective supernatural character, one which utilizes possibly one of the most primitive fears of mankind, that of darkness. This is not a standard ‘wronged by the world and trying to take revenge’ horror movie villain. In fact, it occupies an uneasy space between physical and imaginary existence, and is unavoidably tied to the mental travails of one of the protagonists. Linking its existence to darkness also allows the movie to create frequent jump scares through clever interplay of light and darkness.
‘Lights Out’ is not an ambitious movie. It does not try to do much outside its narrowly defined scope, although it does have the somewhat tortuously portrayed message of valuing family and not abandoning your family members in distress. The acting is not stellar but effective, apart from Maria Bello who stands out. It is also fair to say that the premise is unique and interesting, but the plotline does not cover all its bases; if you were to knit pick, you will find plenty of gaping holes in it. In other words, the movie does not even attempt to transcend the limited ambitions of its genre.
However, aided by some brilliant editing, crafty camera work, great use of lights and sound, a terrifying ghost and above all, a director who is clear-headed about his objectives and limitations and remains committed to spooking his audience, ‘Lights Out’ becomes one of those rare horror movies that actually ends up delivering plenty of scares.