Saturday, June 23, 2018

Lights Out

Lights Out (2016)

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I took a break from trawling youtube to trawl netflix, and Lights Out was the first thing listed under "scary movies" that I hadn't already seen. It's about a dysfunctional family harassed by a ghost-demon-monster thing that can't go in the light.

I have very few nice things to say about this movie so I'm going to get them out of the way quickly.

The fact that the monster can't go in the light yields a couple of pretty cool scenes - for example, there's a police officer at one point and they're shooting at the creature and the flash from the gun stops it so it moves forwards like a choppy flipbook which is neat.

I also really liked the main female character (Teresa Palmer) - she's supposed to be a kinda gothy metalhead, I guess, which doesn't really work, but what I like is how unsentimental she is. She has serious commitment issues, which I respect, and doesn't get all mushy until the very end of the movie which is cool. This puts her in contrast with her mother (Maria Bello) whose character is really sentimental, clinging to the past and letter her emotions control her and also manifest as a thought form that terrorizes her children.

The characters are reasonably well written for the most part, with the exception of the boyfriend character (Alexander DiPersia), whose main personality trait is that he's clingy. The first scene he's in, he's trying to pressure the main girl into letting him spend the night, which I guess is supposed to highlight her commitment problems but for me - a woman with commitment problems - just incurred immediate dislike of the guy. He also gets some pretty stupid dialogue, like when he first meets the girl's little brother (Gabriel Bateman) he's like "I didn't know you had a brother", even though she has a picture of her and her brother in her apartment. That made me mad because this guy is trying to pursue a relationship with her and insinuate himself into her life and whatever, but obviously never bothered to ask "who's the little kid in this picture of you?"

The only scares in the movie are jump scares which is obviously not a good thing - one got me early in the movie because I was hoping this wasn't that kind of movie, and that filled me with rage for about the first forty five minutes of the film. I feel like I've done this before, but I'm going to break down again why jump scares suck for anybody who thinks that "any scare is a good scare". With some very well handled exceptions, a seasoned viewer can tell when a jump scare is coming and react accordingly - I prepare by just taking one earbud out so it isn't so loud. In this movie, I could even predict whether there was going to be an actual jump scare, or a fake-out (e.g., oh my god is the monster behind that shower curtain, no, it's just the kid). To reiterate, jump scares are generally a lazy, predictable substitute for making a movie that's actually scary, and they make me hate you. Stop doing it.

Another lazy device in this movie is that apparently everybody in this family likes to buy shitty, defective light bulbs for some reason. The bulbs flicker like they're fucking strobe lights, and one bulb fails entirely, allowing the monster to kill a guy. It makes me wonder if the monster, which has an ill-defined suite of powers, also has the power to make light bulbs flicker? That power seems pretty useless except in the case where one light flickers so much the bulb burns out, but if that's a thing the monster can do why does it only do that once?

Also the climax of the film involves a power outage on the block which may or may not have been caused by the monster? I mean, they don't explicitly say that it was, but they don't say that it wasn't either, which is also kind of lazy. I know, power outages are not an usual occurrence, but for it to just go out on a clear night when a family just happens to be fighting a photosensitive ghost demands explanation. And again, if the monster can make the power go out, why doesn't it do that all the time? Why does it wait until its victims are prepared for it?

Speaking of being prepared, it's amazing to me how unprepared these people actually are for even a regular power outage. They only have, like, two flashlights and three candles, for a huge house. To contrast, I have a small apartment and have about forty five candles, a really big and bright flashlight,  a smaller and less bright flashlight, and several battery operated strings of holiday lights. Why? Because I like to be able to see what I'm fucking doing.

Back to the monster - I have some serious questions about the monster in this fucking movie. Question one - how dark does it need to be for the thing to attack? Coz like, sometimes it seems to be restricted to areas of pitch black, and other times it can come out when it's merely dim. Also there is at least one time when a character is in a room where the lights are on, and the monster is in the closet which has the door open but is completely, absolutely dark. I'm not a physicist, but I'm reasonably sure that that is not how light works.

Question two - does the monster occupy physical space or not? It can interact with, and physically harm, humans so I'm going to go with yes, but it also disappears when light is shining on it, but appears to be in the same place when the light goes away, but also can't move between shadows through places where there is light except sometimes it can. What I'm getting at here is that there are absolutely no rules for how this thing functions in the world which, okay, it's a ghost, but by not having any consistent rules it begs the question, why can't it just go wherever? Like... I dunno, inside your eyelids when you close your eyes. Is there any reason it can't?

Question three - why can it sometimes come into the light? This question is sort of related to the previous one in that there are no fucking rules for how this monster works. The only rule that is solidly laid out is that it can't come into the light, at all. Except that sometimes it can, like at one point it takes a kid's sketchbook when she turns her back on it, even though the sketchbook is underneath a fucking lamp. Also, towards the end they use a flashlight to burn it, even though previously it just disappeared whenever light was shone on it which goes back to the physical space question.

Question four - this isn't actually a question but the origin story of the ghost-monster is hilariously bad. Eventually we learn that the monster used to be a little girl named Diana who befriended the mom when she was in a mental hospital as a child. Diana had severe photosensitivity (like, severe enough that lamp light gave her burns. I'm not a doctor, but my boyfriend has mild photosensitivity, and from what I understand the reaction is caused by ultraviolet light, which regular lamps, and candles, do not emit) and psychic powers that she used to make people her friends and/or kill themselves, but only sometimes. Again, there isn't really any explanation of what powers she has exactly or why she doesn't use them all the time. Doctors at the mental hospital tried to treat her by shining a really bright light on her which made her literally turn to ash. I am not joking. I laughed my fucking ass off. But it also made her turn into a super powerful ghost for some reason. I can't even with this movie.

Question five - why doesn't black light work? At one point in the movie, the kids find a black light and use that to see. It turns out that the monster isn't harmed by the black light for some reason. Like I said before, from what I understand about light sensitivity, it's an extreme sensitivity to UV radiation, which is what a black light emits and therefore should probably be harmful to a person with this condition. I will accept that, maybe, the condition the monster has is actually magic and for some reason only light in the visible spectrum will hurt it. I can suspend my disbelief for that. But the lamp that the kids were using was definitely emitting visible light, so there's still no reason that the monster would not be affected.

Question six - why does the monster rip peoples eyes out? Is it because it tried to hide inside their eyelids but it was too big? You know what, I don't even give a fuck anymore, the monster in this movie is fucking stupid, I've made my point.

Want to know another really stupid thing about this movie? The ending. Towards the end of the movie we learn that the ghost-demon thing is basically the semi-physical manifestation of the mom's depression, sort of like the Babadook. Remember in The Babadook when the woman learns to live with the monster because, even though you can't make depression go away, you can manage it so that it doesn't ruin your life? Well, in this movie the Only Way to solve the problem is for the mom to blow her own fucking brains out with a handgun. Yes, the ultimate message of this movie is that you can get rid of your depression by killing yourself. Fuck this movie, right in the ear.

- Unsentimental woman (+1)
Total: +1

- Jump scares are the ketchup of horror films (-1)
- Why not buy CFL bulbs, they use less power and last longer so they're good for your wallet and the environment (-1)
- Boyfriend is a dink (-1.5) [points restored for him like saving them or whatever]
- Convenient power outage (-1)
- Hand cranked flashlight, for extra uselessness (-1)
- Buy some more candles, jesus (-1)
- How can these people afford this massive house? (-1)
- The monster makes no fucking sense (-8)
- It's like The Babadook if The Babadook was a piece of shit (-2)
Total: -17.5
Final Score: -16.5 stars

Directed by: David F. Sandberg.  Written by: Eric Heisserer.  Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Alexander DiPersia.

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