Lights Out (2013)

*. If I could extend Keats just a bit, monsters we see are scary, but those we can’t see are scarier.
*. The reasons for this probably go back to some evolutionary adaptation. If we can only sense a threat but not see it our threat level goes up. As we lean forward, deep into the darkness peering (that’s Poe, and James Wan), we imagine the worst. This could be something really bad.
*. The upshot of which is that we’re afraid of the dark. Or more specically we’re afraid of what might be in it.
*. In a film this short (3 minutes) there isn’t time to develop this idea much further. Basically what we have here is a single visual conceit: a creature that only appears as a shadow or silhouette in the darkness. What does it want? What is it up to? Probably no good, but it behaves in a curious way.
*. The less we see, the scarier the demon seems. The same goes for the less we know of it. When director David F. Sandberg expanded the concept here into a feature, the 2016 Lights Out, he gave the creature, named Diana, a whole back story and various personal issues. None of which made her a bit more threatening.
*. The demon in this film isn’t even that afraid of the light. It has no trouble defeating the protagonist’s duct-tape solution, and at the end makes a full appearance in regular electric light, something Diana could not do.
*. I was reminded of the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” a classic story that reappeared in 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie (with John Lithgow in the William Shatner role). As with the gremlin on the wing, the creature keeps slipping closer in jumps as the lights come on or as the woman looks away or covers up. Then you get one big jump scare at the end.
*. Given the format that’s all we need. Along with a bunch of other shorts Sandberg did with the same actress (his wife, Lotta Losten) — Attic Panic, Coffer, Cam Closer, Closet Space — what we get is basically a build up to a couple of jump scares. It’s horror for the YouTube generation, and I think it works very well. It is, however, all based on one clever (but very simple) bit of camera work, the lights-on/lights-off disappearing act. Would that be enough to sustain a feature? A franchise? There would be only one way to find out.

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