Lights Out Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)
When Rebecca left home, she thought she left her childhood fears behind. Growing up, she was never really sure of what was and wasn’t real when the lights went out…and now her little brother, Martin, is experiencing the same unexplained and terrifying events that had once tested her sanity and threatened her safety. A frightening entity with a mysterious attachment to their mother, Sophie, has reemerged. But, this time, as Rebecca gets closer to unlocking the truth, there is no denying that all their lives are in danger…once the lights go out. (From Warner Bros. official synopsis)
Horror movies have always thrived on exploiting our fear of the dark, leading some filmmakers to personify an evil within that darkness. In opposition, light became a literal weapon against vampires, the creepy-crawlies of Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984) and John Newland’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), and the hungry xenomorphs of David Twohy’s Pitch Black (2000). David F. Sandberg’s 2013 short, Lights Out, so beautifully distilled the ideas of warring brightnesses that it could very well be the final word on the subject of evil darkness and its aversion to light. It was also a viral video sensation, so, of course, a major studio pursued a feature-length version. Fortunately, Sandberg was included as director and his talents aren’t too watered down in the transition to feature-length movie. The pre-title sequence is a tasty plate of creepy pasta that elegantly sets the stage and visually explains the simple concept. From here, it’s a matter of getting the meat & potatoes storytelling out of the way, so that he can move on to more finely-tuned scary set-pieces. It’s honestly impressive how much mileage he’s able to get out of the same basic gag, where the monster disappears and reappears as the light she occupies shifts. Taken piece-by-piece, the extended version of Lights Out (2016) is a stylish entry in the growing Blumhouse canon. Unfortunately, taken as a narrative-driven mainstream movie, it’s still pretty mediocre.
The screenplay is supplied by Eric Heisserer, a New Line regular and co-writer of Samuel Bayer’s unfortunate Nightmare on Elm Street remake (2010) and Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.’s similarly unfortunate The Thing remake/prequel (2011), as well as Steven Quale’s Final Destination 5 (also 2011). He has the unenviable task of creating a backstory for a creature that is better left unexplained, a wraparound plot for her to exist within, and a series of characters for her to torment. He takes few chances with the plot, opting to anchor the spooky happenings with a by-the-numbers domestic drama. There are no surprises in the main story and the emotional exchanges teeter on the brink of soap opera hysterics. The cast is quite good and likable, even the generic male love interest, so it’s not a complete slog between scares. The monster’s origin is sort of neat, too, though it is awfully similar to the monster’s origin in Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors (2008 – it’s a loose remake of Kim Sung-ho’s Into the Mirror, but the two films have different climaxes) and not really explored to its creepy potential. I suppose that maybe they’re saving something for the sequel? And, again, having a ‘why’ behind the monster robs it of some of its power, even if that ‘why’ gives the heroes a compelling way to stop her in the end (no spoilers).
Lights Out was shot on Arri Alexa XT digital HD cameras and is presented 2.40:1, 1080p video on this Blu-ray disc. Obviously, the interplay between dark and light is an important visual element and this can be an issue for clarity. Sandberg and cinematographer Marc Spicer maintain a clean, very digital look in order to push the darkness to extremes without completely losing detail. A grainier format would not have worked in this case. Even with clarity in mind, some scenes are too dark to discern (and there’s still considerable digital grain throughout). I didn’t see the film in theaters, but assume that this issue is inherent in the original material. At its best, however, the gradations are not so subtle as to smudge up the harder edges and the blacks are relatively pure/consistent without fading into greys. The heavy use of black lights during the final act certainly helps here, as the blue/white glow offers an in-film excuse to punch-up texture and patterns. Color quality is especially vivid during daylight sequences, which sets a nice contrast to the sickly green and desaturated night sequences (the ones before the blacklight scenes).
Lights Out is presented in clean and super-dynamic 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The complex and busy multi-channel design is vital to the film’s eerie tone and the success of its most potent scares. The purity of its eerie silences are also quite important. The basic formula is stark silence, followed by jittery noise in the stereo or surround channels, more silence, and then a big ‘boo!’ that blasts screams and supernatural effects over the entire room. The in-between stuff, where characters discuss the plot and the blandness of the ‘real world’ impedes on the spookiness, the dialogue is crisp and environmental ambience is natural. Benjamin Wallfisch’s spooky music is used sparingly to grumble beneath set-ups and shout in the audience’s face during jump-scares. When the score is allowed a little more roaming room, it exhibits nice depth and warmth.
The only extra is a collection of deleted scenes (three total, 13:59, HD). These extend some story details, connect a few dots between the family and the monster (including a more complete origin story), and include about ten minutes of extended ending (including an extensive fight sequence and a set-up for a sequel). For some reason (rights issues?) they haven’t included the original short, which is a pretty big bummer.
The images on this page are NOT representative of the Blu-ray image quality.