Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is a metal-loving ball of anger who tries to keep a considerable distance from her mother, Sophie (Maria Bello). When her much younger brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), tells her that mummy has begun talking to someone in her closet, Rebecca believes that it’s nothing more than a symptom of the mental illness that coloured her own childhood. And yet, she couldn’t be more wrong.
Based on his viral short film of the same name, the strength of David Sandberg’s Lights Out are the complex issues that hide under its simple premise. Like Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow, Lights Out uses its creeping horror and tension as an allegory of how depression and stress can bleed through and tear a family apart. Here, Sophie’s distress is manifested in a skeletal woman called Diana who can only be seen in the dark. That light – from a bulb, a car light, or even a mobile phone – appears to be her weakness means nothing as the threat of what she represents cannot be washed away with the morning. Much like Sophie’s behaviour around her family.
Even without this deeper context, Lights Out is a well-crafted spine-chiller which hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the end. It perfectly encapsulates that stalking feeling one possesses when wandering down a dark alley, unable to make out what’s lurking in the shadows. And yes, in light of any potential symbolism that the film may hold, its ending can be – and has been – read as condoning a certain behaviour. However, this is really a minor issue on which to hang the director, and diminishes the complexity of the topic of depression. Instead, Lights Out should be praised for wanting to tackle these ideas head on.