Could it be possible that in the span of one movie I’m worn out on the James Wan brand? While Wan only produces Lights Out (David F. Sandberg directed the feature, based on his excellent short film), this was the movie that made me feel like the Wan approach to the paranormal is played out. This was a sneaking suspicion for me during The Conjuring 2, but now my worry is more substantiated. I say this as a fan of both Wan and Lights Out. This movie put me in a weird spot. I feel like a hater trying to knock someone down from a career-high pedestal on one hand (plus, Blumhouse aside, the man is practically saving theatrical horror’s financial viability), but on the other I used to enjoy how wildly varied James Wan productions were within the horror genre and lately they’re all very similar. Enough about that, though. Let’s talk about Lights Out.
The performances are pretty strong, too, particularly by Palmer and Bello. I’ve always thought that Teresa Palmer was a breath of fresh air in any movie she was in (she’s another one of the great Australian beauties in film…do I need to move there?) but here she’s really given a nice character to play and she proves to be a solid anchor and not just a valuable ensemble player. She’s great at playing a mixture of warm but distant, guarded but vulnerable, and her American accent is on point; it's just gravelly and weary enough to make the audience believe that she’s kind of tired of the shit she’s currently going through, having been through it before. Bello’s part is trickier, as she has to play someone with mental health issues and not be manic. There’s a certain unpredictability of what she’s going to bring to each scene and that’s a lot of fun. You never know if her character is going to be a nurturing and protective mother or someone with a loss of grip on reality. Also very good is a well-written boyfriend character (to Rebecca) played by Alexander DePersia. I say well-written because he’s just nice and supportive and doesn’t have character baggage that gets in the way of the movie’s A plot. Come to think of it, this movie doesn’t really even have a B plot. That’s what a lean, muscular 81 minute runtime does. This film is edited down to its essentials.
Demon Knight), Lights Out has enough power that I look forward to seeing what David F. Sandberg will do next. He’s tapped to direct the Annabelle sequel, which is kind of exciting. I’m hoping he’ll bring legitimacy to the underrated original with a kickass sequel, similar to what I’m hoping will happen with Mike Flanagan’s new Ouija movie due in October. The only thing I ask is that Sandberg pushes the envelope a little further. If Wan has become a brand, Sandberg is not the quite there so I’m hoping he makes something a little more fucked up than the PG-13 teenager-friendly Lights Out. Mainstream horror is becoming, in a weird way, a safe and predictable place and the paranormal films are part and parcel to that. Are they suspenseful? Sure. But suspense releases itself. I’d rather see something creepy that festers and gets under my skin after I watch it. Independents are where it’s at for this type of horror. Mainstream has become a surface level-haunted house-roller coaster game. I just want a studio to have the balls to make a movie as big as Lights Out that causes the audience to pass out. Maybe that’s too much to ask? But it would be fun!