This half-clever horror debut from David F Sandberg is based on his 2013 short of the same name – check it out on YouTube. You’ll be wowed by what a director can do in two minutes. But before you do, first make sure you have a lamp handy, because you won’t want to be in the dark afterwards.
Sadly, ‘Lights Out’ is much less effective as a padded-out feature. It features the same conceit: the bedroom lights go out and we notice a shadowy figure in the hallway. Click them back on and she’s gone. Off again: she’s back, staring right at you. On again: nothing. Off again: you don’t want to know how close she is.
Sandberg isn’t much of a storyteller, so he’s hired Eric Heisserer, a screenwriter mainly known for reboots of other people’s material, to flesh out a generic family. There’s a single mother (Maria Bello) with mental health problems, her adult daughter (Teresa Palmer) and a younger son who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in months (Gabriel Bateman). Once the film runs out of unusual lighting schemes to exploit (violet-hued goth black lighting, random blasts of car headlights), it loses power faster than a millennial with a long-overdue electricity bill. However, with the light-on, lights-off, it does invent a creepy new way of building tension – no mean feat in a done-to-death genre.