The devilish conceit at the heart of 2013 short Lights Out was so scary it went viral on YouTube, prompting horror guru James Wan (Insidious) to hire its director – Sweden’s David F. Sandberg, next making Annabelle 2 – to expand it into a feature, and in the process deliver one of the scariest, most surprising films of 2016. The conceit? Basically: lights on, you’re safe. Lights out, something’s gonna get you. Something that crouches in dark doorways, hugging shadows before pouncing.
That’s what happens to the step-father of gutsy loner Rebecca (Teresa Palmer, bucking Final Girl cliches with an appealingly edgy performance), whose death forces Rebecca to confront her estranged mother (Maria Bello, terrifically tragic) and protect her step-brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman). Which is harder than it sounds when every dark crevice could harbour a murderous entity.
Ably stepping up to the feature game, Sandberg excels at bleeding every gloomy corner of tension, and his innovative light tricks rivet, particularly a nifty shot involving a firearm. Yes, it’s basically 80 minutes of the same gimmick, but with characters you care about and a poignant denouement, this is horror with guts as well as gore. Even better news? Sandberg’s already on board for a sequel.
This review originally appeared in Horrorville Issue #2.