Movie Review: ‘Lights Out’ Won’t Stay With You Long, But It Works For A Summer Horror Flick

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Dinner with your family. A hug from a stranger. Katy Perry songs. A stick of Fruit Stripe gum.

What do they all have in common? They’re all acceptable for a short amount of time. Lights Out started as a short film directed by David F. Sandberg, and it was an outstanding one. Coming in at just under three minutes, the simple premise managed to find a large audience and it ended up going viral. The buzz surrounding the short film got the attention of some powerful producers in Hollywood, and now three years later Sandberg is making his major directorial debut with an extended version of the short.

Did it deliver? Or will you leave the theater wanting to suffocate yourself with that plastic bag Katy Perry is always singing about?

The film starts out with a satisfying nod to the actress (Lotta Losten) who starred in the original short film. Just like in the short, we see her working that light switch. Turn the light off, the creature appears. Turn the light on, and the creature disappears. Sounds simple enough, right? Just keep the lights on and you’ll never have to worry about getting mauled by Diana.

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Yeah, Diana. The creature has a name, and it (she?) also has a surprisingly deep backstory. Most movie monsters are monsters because, well, the movie needs a monster. It’s like when you order a shake from a fast food restaurant and they dump a pound of whipped cream on top. Ask why they did it, and they’ll say, “I dunno…shakes need whipped cream,” and you accept that answer because no one wants to be that ungrateful customer complaining about receiving extra sweets for free.

Diana is more than just whipped cream though. She’s a friend. A childhood friend of Sophie (Maria Bello), the disturbed mother of Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) and Martin (Gabriel Bateman). As the events play out, we learn that Sophie and Diana were both treated at the same mental hospital when they were children. Diana had some rare skin disorder that made her sensitive to light. Any exposure to it would cause extreme pain and disfigurement. Doctors at the hospital tried to fix the condition by basically treating her like a human Hot Pocket and blowing her up in a microwave-like setting.

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Ever since then, Diana has been haunting Sophie and killing her husbands, but she never touched Martin and Rebecca because Sophie wouldn’t allow it. That all changes when Rebecca and Martin attempt to save their mom by trying to force her to take her medications to get her back to a healthier state of mind. A mind strong enough to fight off Diana.

As you might expect, things don’t go as planned. The same style of scares are repeated throughout the movie, so you shouldn’t go in expecting to jump out of your seat. There are several chill-inducing moments though, and they are mixed with some genuinely funny moments. There are at least two scenes in the film that had the entire theater laughing as if they were watching a comedy. And just to be clear here, they weren’t laughing AT the movie.

They were laughing with it.

It wasn’t all good though. Lights Out is sprinkled with cliches, the story felt a little rushed at times, and while Rebecca’s boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) provided most of the laughs, his constant need for reassurance during the worst times got a bit tiring.

Overall, it’s a decent horror flick with a powerful ending, and you won’t need a plastic bag after you leave the theater. But you’ll probably want to leave the light on for a few nights. You know, just in case Diana is real.

 

4star

(4/7 on the Gary Busey rating system, which refuses to end at 5 like normal rating systems)

 

Move Review: McFarland, USA – A Well-Intentioned Movie With Heart

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It’s been what, at least 15 minutes since Disney put out an inspirational sports story? Guess it’s time for another one. McFarland, USA is a drama loosely (and I use the term loosely very loosely) based on real life events in a town of the same name.

This is your standard white teacher versus angry ethnic students trope. In this case, we meet Jim White (Kevin Costner) a former football coach who earns back his mojo when he sees some of his students running to and from work and school, mainly out of necessity. So he decides the best way to help these disadvantaged students is to set up a cross country team. Of course, this immediately creates some parental and student hostility. But White perseveres and soon goes on to coach the school’s first championship long distance running team.

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How close is the film to real life? Unfortunately, it looses credibility because of the back-story of White. In the movie, White is a former big city coach who gets fired and is forced to move to a small farming community. In real life, Jim White lived there for the majority of his professional life. There was no angst filled back story and I thought the addition of one was unnecessary.

But I will say, despite the Hollywood treatment of White’s back-story, it’s an emotionally honest film. The movie is heavily focused on the Hispanic farm working community, and it’s clear to see how bleak and depressed many of those community member’s futures are. The kids are kids who expect to go on to do what their fathers, and their grandfathers did before them. The cross country team might become their last chance of escape and you can feel that through the work of the director.

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This is a movie that could have gone horribly wrong. A pasty white hero saving a group of young hoodlums. But it doesn’t, because of careful storytelling. We seen Jim help his students, but we also see his students help him become part of a community he just doesn’t understand. While the film might be a bit simplistic, it’s the simplicity that sells it. White has his own misconceptions and prejudices, and he’s not depicted as some a savior, which keeps this film from turning into a pile of mush.

It did go on a bit longer than it needed to. This was a story that could have been told in 90 minutes, but the director felt the need to pad out the script with a ton of reaction shots. The end does feature some of the real life participants of the event, along with what happened to them, which makes for a satisfying conclusion.

It’s also not often that you see a movie that focuses on cross-country. For the most part, sports movies focus on football, basketball and baseball respectively. Telling the story of a cross country team helps bring some recognition to the sport and helps people see it in a different light.

It’s worth the watch. Despite the forced culture clashes and predictable storyline, this is a well-intentioned movie with heart and one that makes viewers focus on a sport they wouldn’t normally.

WE GAVE IT: 4 Stars – Watch the Official Trailer and Official Movie Poster below!

4 stars

 

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