In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Based on the short film of the same name, Lights Out is a feature-length application of a novel jump scare tactic introduced in the source material. I want to tell you that the movie was effective. I want to tell you that director David Sandberg managed to cleverly expand upon his short in a way that feels natural. I want to tell you that I jumped out of my seat multiple times and was afraid to turn my lights out for days after the movie ended. I want to tell you all of these things. But I can’t.
Unfortunately, this screening was an absolute nightmare. My fellow audience members took it upon themselves to yell at the screen, jeer the characters, and narrate every moment of the film, making it absolutely impossible to get wrapped up in it. It also made it a struggle to hear much of the dialogue. And when the studio-hired security guard, whose job it is to crack down on cell phone usage in the theater, decided to join in on the commentary, the floodgates opened and any chance of being able to offer a fair review of the film was dashed. It’s a shame too. I think it might have been a pretty decent flick.
There’s nothing wrong with a reactive audience. In the world of horror moviegoing, few pleasures match that of riding the cinematic roller coaster with a room full of like-minded horror-hounds. We jump together, scream together, and eventually share in a nervous laugh when the scares die down. It’s an incredible thing. For this very reason I’ll never forget the night I first saw The Descent in a sold out festival screening. You know what didn’t happen at said screening? Low-rent MST3K knock-off comments every few seconds.
If that is what you like to do during movies, STAY HOME.
Then again, maybe I’m the curmudgeon. Since the entire theater was on board with being loud, disrespectful, and rowdy, while I stewed silently, maybe I’m the jerk. Maybe my anger toward my fellow moviegoers stems from my jealousy of their ability to enjoy the experience so passionately, even if it’s at the expense of actually engaging the material. So I guess in that respect, the film had to have been good, as it appears there was only one unsatisfied customer: me.
Here’s what I gathered about the plot. A single mother is obsessed with her “friend” who takes the form of a creature that only appears in the dark. When her young son starts to catch on that something strange is happening, he and his long estranged sister decide to save their mother from this creature of darkness.
Real basic stuff, and from what I could see, most of the story was just applied to connect the parade of cleverly staged jump scares. Simple functionality is a smart move. To try and dig too deeply or add any class to the proceedings would miss the point of it all. Lights Out holds no illusions as to what it wants or needs to be, keeping things to a tight 81 minutes. My goal is to wash what little I saw of this movie from my mind before it hits home video, so that the jump scares may have their full effect on me when I watch it alone in my darkened hermit-box.
Theater owners, do better. Studios, tell your employees not to encourage disruptive behavior. Audience members, please remember that you are out in public, sharing an event with other people who shelled out good money to have an experience that did not include your personal commentary. It’s okay to be reactive, but save being interactive for when you’re at home.
Do I recommend seeing Lights Out? Absolutely. Let me know how it is.
Lights Out opens in Philly theaters today.