Lights Out ***

Horror pic with great buzz delivers with legit scares and serious thrills.

Is it worth $10? Yes

For all the bad horror movies with predictable scares and schlocky effects, “Lights Out” is a breath of fresh air, a real seat-jumper full of “oh no” moments and legitimate fright. It’s everything you want a horror movie to be, but rarely is.

The story centers on Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) and her little step brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman), who can’t sleep because he’s afraid of the dark. He has good reason. Rebecca sympathizes because when she was his age (about 10 years old) she too was tormented by a demon named Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) when the lights were off. She escaped Diana by moving out of the house, but that solution doesn’t work for Martin. With their mother Sophie (Maria Bello) no help at all, but Rebecca’s doting boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) doing everything he can to protect them, Rebecca and Martin try to figure out how to get rid of the demon once and for all.

Director David F. Sandberg takes our natural fear of the dark and subverts it into the story of a demon that only exists in the dark and cannot be exposed to light. “Just keep the lights on!” you’re thinking. Well, Rebecca and Martin try. And although Sandberg does throw in one malfunctioning light too many, for the most part they’re smart about how they combat the malevolent baddie. This is important because many horror movies insult the viewer’s intelligence by having characters do things that are illogical and colossally stupid; in contrast, in “Lights Out” characters use logic as an asset, albeit to varying degrees of effectiveness.

In the very least, they’re clever about it. During one sequence Bret smartly uses modern technology to get out of a bind. Later, Rebecca uses a black light to see Diana, and there’s no shortage of candles, flashlights and other forms of light available when the power inevitably goes out. The problem is those can only light a limited area, so if it’s dark behind you…

Sandberg, who is making his feature film debut here after creating this story as a short film in 2013, also shows proficiency at crafting a scare. For example, in the opening scene Diana appears on the other side of a room when lights are turned off. Office worker Esther (Lotta Losten, Sandberg’s wife) thinks she sees something, so she turns the lights on and off again. As she does so with increasing speed Diana gets closer every time the lights go off, creating a darkly imposing sense of danger that starts the film on a perfect note.

At 81 minutes, “Lights Out” is short, sweet and scary. Enough of the backstory is satisfactorily explained, but Sandberg and co-writer Eric Heisserer stop short of exploring the supernatural forces that allow Diana to exist. That’s okay – the “how” isn’t as important as the “what” here, and in this case the “what” adds up to a horror movie that’s a lot of fun.

Did you know?
Watch closely: When Rebecca is in the basement with the black light you can see a crewmember in the background on the floor handling wires. This is a $5 million film, which means it’s low budget. A bigger budget probably would’ve allowed for the digital removal of the crewmember in postproduction.

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