Good horror movies are hard to come by nowadays largely due to their susceptibility to sequel-itis and tendency to follow the same tired formulas, but in light of their popularity with young moviegoers looking for a good fright and favorable return-on-investment they are often a lucrative and safe bet. While Hollywood will never stop swinging for the all-or-nothing home runs by making blockbuster tent-poles costing hundreds of millions in the vain hopes of recouping three times the films’ budgets at the box office, producers of horror films have discovered their own little secret: that settling for hitting singles often isn't such a bad deal. First-time director David Sandberg’s new supernatural horror movie, ‘Lights Out,’ is the latest example of this limited approach. With a mere budget of $5 million, it has already grossed nearly $30 million worldwide. Even if it drops substantially over its second weekend and disappears from theaters by week 3, the movie will be considered an unqualified success.
‘Lights Out’ (co-produced by James Wan) is a PG-13 rated supernatural thriller about a family terrorized by a malevolent entity that takes form in the darkness. It is quite an intriguing – if unoriginal – hook. But good horror movies can’t simply rely on gimmicks and must immerse us in the story and make us care about the characters. ‘Lights Out’ delivers in this regard. As with most James Wan movies (either as director or producer), the film centers around a small group of people whom the audience gains sympathy with in their worsening predicament, in this case a young woman named Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) and her little brother Martin (Gabriel Martin), who lives with his deranged mother Sophie (Maria Bello) and an entity of pure and unadulterated evil named Diana.
‘Lights Out’ is an effective little chiller due to its simplicity and sparseness. From its nightmarishly creepy opening scene inside a mannequin factory to its final act, the movie’s scary moments are well parsed out for maximum impact without overdoing it and thereby rendering us immune, like many horror movies couldn’t resist doing. Likewise, the performances by its cast of relative unknowns are subtle and understated yet no less powerful, driving the story briskly along and making us true “believers” in its outlandish supernatural premise.