Sunday, August 7, 2016

Movie Review: LIGHTS OUT

This is one of the best horror films to be released in recent years, it is horror done correctly. It's a film that treats audiences with respect and scares them deeply with unsettling and intelligent imagery, whilst maintaining a high sense of narrative drive and dramatic pathos that ultimately overpower any of the film's minor flaws.

Lights Out tells the story of a family coping with their mother's mental problems and a creature that might be responsible for them. When Martin (Gabriel Bateman) starts experiencing fear out of his mother behavior he calls for help from his sister (Teresa Palmer) who has to step up for her family with her little brother and fight the demons of both past and present.

What struck me deeply about Lights Out is its thematic core. There seems to be a resurgence of motherly fear as a theme in horror movies recently after The Babadook brought it back so brilliantly, and for now it has worked very well with interesting and original insights in all the movies I've seen touching the subject, this one being one of the very best, with Maria Bello bringing to life some harrowing moments of despair for a mother's call for love from her siblings.

But even more than motherly fear, this film is about depression and might I add how genius it treats the theme. The symbolism and metaphoric nature of many elements of the film might be even too explicit, but they never are heavy handed or dull. The filmmakers craft a narrative with deep implications in the theme and what comes out of it is a film that touches the viewer deeply, not because of the scares, but because of how truly you feel devastated by what the characters have to go through. It is a deep study of depression and mental illness, and is a fantastic look at how people cope with such things in family and society, but most importantly it's a surprising and brave take on the subject matter, which takes twists and turns without ever loosing you and always maintaining a thematic undercurrent that is riveting and worthy of much reflection.

Naturally this is also made possible by the great characterizations the film has, none resulting banal and someone resulting even surprisingly good: Bret played by Alexander DiPersia isn't your classic dumb boyfriend character, he is injected with an honesty and rawness that, unfortunately, isn't found too often in horror films, which makes it even more pleasant when seen unfolded on the screen. Moreover, all of these people aren't dumb and act like actual real human beings in the face of such a tragedy. Palmer and Bateman play off each other very well and the result is really genuine as a brother and sister trying to reconnect.

The film could be accused of having a little bit too much to do with jump scares, but anyone that gives this critique should first understand how jump scares work and how they can be inserted into a film. David F. Sandberg clearly knows this and he uses the scares not as a gimmick, but as an intelligent tool to build suspense, scare the characters and the audience, and get under your skin.

Where this film has flaws is in its mythology. While a lot of it is saved by the thematic undercurrent that explains it, a lot more is simply out of place and the creature haunting the family doesn't end up having any kind of coherent way of being and even though it remains scary for its psychological effect, the film did cheat the audience multiple times.

Overall this is a very scary film that has already left deep seeds in my brain. If you want to see a true horror movie I strongly suggest this one over the recent and very underwhelming Conjuring franchise.

James's Score: 7.5/10

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