Lights Out (2016 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||David F. Sandberg|
|Screenplay by||Eric Heisserer|
by David F. Sandberg
|Music by||Benjamin Wallfisch|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$148.9 million|
Lights Out is a 2016 American supernatural horror film directed by David F. Sandberg in his directorial debut, produced by Lawrence Grey, James Wan, and Eric Heisserer and written by Heisserer. It stars Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Billy Burke, and Maria Bello. It is based on Sandberg's 2013 short film of the same name and features Lotta Losten, who starred in the short.
The film had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 8, 2016, and was released in the United States and Canada on July 22, 2016, by Warner Bros. The film received positive reviews and was a box office success, grossing $148 million against a budget of $4.9 million.
In a textile factory, an employee named Esther encounters a silhouette of a woman when the lights are off, but cannot see it when the lights are on. She warns her boss Paul. After she leaves, Paul encounters the woman and notices that she will not come into the light. He is killed by the woman after she chases him through the factory.
A short time later, a young woman named Rebecca is called into the school nurse’s office because of her brother, Martin. Rebecca and Martin are half-siblings, sharing the same mom: Sophie. The nurse was unable to get in touch with Sophie to inform her that Martin has been falling asleep in class lately. An official from Child Protective Services questions Rebecca about Martin’s living conditions. Rebecca tells the official Sophie has depression, and is taking antidepressants. Rebecca also tells the official that Paul was her stepfather, and that her real father ran away when she was a child.
Rebecca and her boyfriend, Bret, take Martin to Sophie’s house. Martin tells Rebecca that Sophie has been talking to a woman named “Diana”. Rebecca assures Martin that Diana isn’t a real person, and that she had also heard Sophie talk to the imaginary Diana when she was a child. Rebecca gets in an argument with Sophie when she realizes her mom is not taking her medication, so she takes Martin to her apartment so he can rest.
That night, Rebecca is woken by the same woman that killed Paul after she notices her scratching at the floor. Rebecca narrowly escapes an attack from the woman when she turns the lights on and the woman disappears. The next morning, Rebecca notices the word “Diana” has been scratched into her floor, along with a stick figure drawing of a woman. Rebecca has a flashback to when she found the same name and drawing as a child, and realizes Diana is real.
While her mom is running errands, Rebecca sneaks into Sophie's house and finds a box of medical records and other research in Paul’s office. Paul's findings reveal that Sophie was admitted to a mental hospital as a child. While there, she befriended a young patient named Diana. Diana suffered from a severe skin condition, and was accidentally killed by the hospital staff when they performed surgery on her under intense light. Rebecca also learns that Diana was admitted to the mental hospital after her dad committed suicide, and that it was believed that Diana was able to "get into people's heads".
Rebecca, Bret, and Martin stage an intervention at Sophie’s house about how Diana’s spirit is haunting them all. Sophie becomes irate, says she won’t abandon her friend, then locks herself in her bedroom. The team decides to stay the night at Sophie’s, intending to get her help in the morning. To avoid an attack from Diana during the night, they rig the house to be as brightly lit as possible. This proves to be useless when Diana cuts the power to the neighborhood. Diana traps Rebecca and Martin in the basement, and attempts to kill Bret. Bret escapes Diana, and drives to get help from the police. In the basement, Rebecca finds a black light while searching for light sources to brighten the basement. When Rebecca clearly sees Diana with the black light, she realizes it’s not powerful enough to harm her.
Bret returns with two police officers. The officers free Martin and Rebecca from the basement, only to be murdered by Diana. As they’re fleeing the house, Rebecca remembers Sophie is still in her bedroom. As she climbs the stairs to retrieve her mom, Diana tells Rebecca that she killed Rebecca’s father years ago. Diana throws Rebecca off the second floor landing. As Diana prepares to kill Rebecca, Sophie appears, with a gun from one of the dead officers. Sophie realizes she is the tether for Diana to exist in the real world, and commits suicide. As Sophie falls to the floor, Diana vanishes.
Later, Bret comforts Martin and Rebecca in an ambulance outside of Sophie’s house. The three of them appear to be slightly spooked when the ambulance lights flicker.
- Teresa Palmer as Rebecca
- Amiah Miller as Young Rebecca
- Gabriel Bateman as Martin, Rebecca's half-brother
- Alexander DiPersia as Bret, Rebecca's boyfriend
- Billy Burke as Paul, Rebecca's step-father
- Maria Bello as Sophie, Rebecca and Martin's mother
- Alicia Vela-Bailey as Diana Walter, a malevolent spirit
- Andi Osho as Emma
- Rolando Boyce as Officer Brian Andrews
- Maria Russell as Officer Gomez
- Elizabeth Pan as Nurse
- Lotta Losten as Esther, Paul's assistant
- Ava Cantrell as Teen Diana
- Emily Alyn Lind as Teen Sophie
Sandberg, along with his wife Lotta Losten, created the initial short film for a film competition. Although the film did not win the competition, the short soon went viral, leading to Sandberg to be contacted by several agents, to the point where he had to develop a spreadsheet to keep track of them all. One of the contacts was Lawrence Grey who wanted to collaborate with James Wan in order to produce a feature-length version. Although Wan enjoyed the short, he was hesitant that it could be turned into a feature until Sandberg produced a treatment for the feature-length version.
The move to Hollywood was somewhat hectic for the couple, requiring that Losten quit her day job in order to do so. Once in Hollywood the two were unable to get an apartment due to a lack of credit, forcing them to rent Airbnb on a monthly basis.
In June 2015, Gabriel Bateman and Teresa Palmer were cast in the film as the child and teenager leads. In that same month, Maria Bello was cast in the film as the mother of Bateman and Palmer's characters, alongside Alexander DiPersia as the boyfriend of Palmer's character, Billy Burke as the stepfather of Palmer's character and father of Bateman's character, and Alicia Vela-Bailey as the main antagonist Diana were also starring it. Sandberg had not worked with a film crew or visited a film set before directing Lights Out; he had to ask the first assistant director, "So when do I say action?"
Special effects of having the ghost appear and disappear were mostly done by using a split-screen technique as also used in the short. Sandberg said "Whenever she’s in frame with another character, it’s basically just a split screen. So you shoot it with her and without her. You turn the camera on with her, you turn it off and she walks off, and then you turn it on again. It’s super simple, actually." Sandberg also made a list of what he called the "light gags", or different ways to create light sources from flashlights to cell phones and gunfire. In the scene when Diana appears in Rebecca's room, James Wan suggested replacing passing car headlights in an early treatment with the flashing neon sign that appears in the final film.
Sandberg originally based the character of Rebecca a real girl that he knew who was going through depression and being a cutter which is why Rebecca has scars on her arms, but the development of the film made it less of her depression, and more of a ghost story in which Diana would have been the real person who died and became a ghost. Wan came up with the idea of making Diana the ghost. Rebecca's boyfriend was also given a twist of being a rocker, but is actually committed and responsible, even driving a safe car like a Volvo. Another twist Sandberg liked was making the imaginary friend for the mother rather than the trope of having the friend be for the child.
Suicide concerns and ending
After hearing concerns from critics that the ending of the film was promoting suicide, Sandberg interviewed with The A.V. Club where he said he was distressed about that idea, and wanted to explain his position. He said that he originally wanted to make a film about depression, as he has also suffered from it, and that one of his friends had committed suicide. Diana was not a ghost back then, but during the development of the film, it became more of a horror film. It still retained some themes about depression and mental illness. He had originally shot a second ending to the film in which Martin becomes depressed and Diana comes back one more time before she is killed. However, test audiences hated that ending, saying that Sophie's sacrifice would have been in vain.
Lights Out grossed $67.3 million in the United States and Canada and $81.6 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $148.9 million, against a production budget of $4.9 million.
In North America, Lights Out was projected to gross $13–15 million from 2,900 theaters in its opening weekend. It made $1.8 million from its Thursday night screenings and $9.2 million on its first day. The film exceeded expectations and earned $21.7 million in its opening weekend, finishing at third place behind fellow newcomer Star Trek Beyond and holdover The Secret Life of Pets.
In other territories, the film earned $8.5 million in its opening weekend from 3,737 screens in key markets of Russia and Australia along with 30 smaller Eastern European and Asian markets. The film benefited from being released in the wake of the global success of The Conjuring 2. It debuted at first place in Russia with $1.7 million. Its other top openings were recorded in South Korea ($3.9 million), France ($1.5 million), the U.K. ($1.4 million) and Spain ($1.1 million). Its biggest earning markets are South Korea ($7.7 million), Mexico ($5.5 million), the U.K. ($4.5 million) and Spain ($3.9 million).
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 76% based on 152 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 6.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Lights Out makes skillful use of sturdy genre tropes—and some terrific performances—for an unsettling, fright-filled experience that delivers superior chills without skimping on story." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 58 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Lucy O'Brien of IGN gave the film 7/10, saying: "[w]ith an unnerving monster at its core, great cast and relentless final sequence, Light’s [sic] Out is a debut director Sandberg should be proud of. A clunky script occasionally loosens its grip on the nerves, but chances are Diana will still have you sleeping with the lights on for a good while after leaving the theatre." Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film 4 stars out of 4, stating: "[e]ven the most cynical, jaded, seen-it-all-before critic cannot deny certain visceral reactions to a film. Lights Out gave me the chills." Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "[a] surprisingly maternal horror movie that relies as much on fraying emotional bonds as supernatural suspense to create tension, Lights Out deals with an array of primal fears that threaten to unravel a family’s fundamental relationships, along with their sanity." Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times wrote, "[s]packling over any copycat cracks with strong acting and fleet editing, Lights Out delivers minimalist frights in old-school ways."
A few critics were less taken with the film. James Berardinelli of Reelviews gave 2 stars out of 4, saying: "[u]nfortunately, the film stumbles, offering too few legitimate scares and displaying an overreliance on traditional horror movie clichés." Berardinelli detested the film's camerawork, characters as being "thinly drawn", and the screenplay "spending inordinate amount of time providing a backstory..." Rex Reed of The Observer gave 1 star out of 4, saying: "the film's screenplay focuses almost entirely on the number of resourceful and ingenious ways the characters dream up to keep the lights on, stave off the next attack and stay alive—lights from candles, flashlights, cellphones, the car in the driveway—before the batteries die; The fun wears out fast and so does the “gotcha” factor."
|Fright Meter Award||Best Special Effects||Nominated|
|Palm Springs International Film Festival||Directors to Watch||David F. Sandberg||Won|
In July 2016, a week after the film's release, it was announced that New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures had greenlit a sequel. Heisserer and Sandberg will return to write and direct the film, respectively, while Wan and Lawrence Grey will return to produce under their Atomic Monster and Grey Matter Productions banners.
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