So I went up to Alaska to visit my sister and her family, and although it was perhaps ill advised, I took my teenage niece and tween nephew to see Lights Out. They liked it, I liked it, and we had a great time talking about the effects, the plot, which of us jumped when, and the overall awesomeness of the film…then they mentioned the short that inspired it. “Cool” I said, “you can show it to me when we get back to the house.” As soon as we walked through the door, my nephew gleefully started up his X-Box 360, went to YouTube, and we all sat down to watch the original short. As the credits rolled, I felt a bit of disappointment; not in the short, but in the feature film. The YouTube video was mostly the same gag that was in the trailer, and I think they may have used the same actresses. The movie had a great back story, and the cast was spot on; however, it felt very specific to the characters, whereas the short with its lack of details of why this was happening made it way creepier…because it could happen to me…or to you.
That aspect of immersion is such an important part of the success of a film, especially in the horror genre. For instance, in the original poltergeist movie, whoever had been living at that house at that time would have been screwed. Whether they had kids, or were into German mud wrestling, or maybe had the world’s third largest collection of non-racially biased voodoo dolls. It wasn’t the family, it was the house, and your house might be next. It’s the same reason the traditional boogeyman will always scare more effectively than Freddy or Jason or Michael. You don’t have to go skinny dipping in Crystal Lake, or go trick or treating in Haddonfield, and your town might have an Elm Street, but the boogeyman…he is just a roll of the dice away from your closet door, and probably under your bed already.
I don’t want to tear down the movie as it was quite good, but when you watch horror movies for a living, you can tell when the jump scares are coming, who is most likely to survive, if there is going to be a creepy basement scene, and have enough sense not to yell at the screen every time one of the protagonists makes a fatal mistake. (BTW, I’m staying in my sister’s basement as I write this, and I just heard slow, creepy footsteps over my head and I walked right on up the stairs without a weapon, or a flashlight, or a care in the world, for that matter. If I was in a horror movie, I would be in a lot of little pieces right now.)
All in all, Lights Out was a solid horror movie. I took issue with a few of its plot points, but Hollywood always makes those same kinds of mistakes, so I can’t really knock it. It’s worth a watch, but I recommend that you see the short first. It’s less of an investment, it’s on YouTube so it’s free, and if you like the short, you will most likely enjoy the movie as well.
Tonight, however, I’m sleeping with the lights ON.