Lights Out

Angst -
Depression -
The darker side of mental illness in Lights Out
David F. Sandberg
Eric Heisserer,
David F. Sandberg
Teresa Palmer,
Gabriel Bateman,
Maria Bello
Run time
Warner Bros,
Atomic Monster,
Grey Matter Productions,
New Line Cinema,
RatPac-Dune Entertainment
Distribution Date
Jul 22, 2016

In Cinemas

  • US & Canada - Jul 22 2016
  • UK - Aug 19 2106
  • New Zealand & Australia - unknown


I just saw my first ever horror film in the movie theater. And I kind of liked it.

The trailer for Lights Out is what piqued my interest first. I’m a sucker for any story exploring the use of imaginary friends as coping mechanism (I’m looking at you, Donnie Darko, Harvey and Drop Dead Fred). Then I noticed that Maria Bello (Law & Order SVU) was attached, and I’m always interested to see what she will produce.

The feel of the film is dark and moody, with lots of jump-scares for veteran horror buffs. Young Teresa Palmer (December Boys, Warm Bodies) is completely engaging and believable as Rebecca, though costumer Kristin M. Burke (Insidious, The Conjuring) puts her in painted-on jeans and platform boots.

I love the first few moments of a good horror flick. A good one will set the tone with music and images, then start to reveal just enough of the story to make you want to peek under the covers and see how everything works. It touches the same part of me that loves to listen to dirty family gossip, but only if I’m not involved. Show of hands, anyone?

Rebecca lives on her own. Pretty, blonde, but with inexplicable shadows under her gorgeous eyes, she finds herself unable to commit to any long-term relationships. Her room is located above a tattoo parlor in town and is plastered with hard-core posters of nearly-nude women and skulls. Rebecca is technically a millennial, I suppose, though the writers and set-decorators have avoided placing her generationally. Drug paraphernalia is featured briefly in her apartment, and in the sea of metal band posters, none are recognizable.

Rebecca moved out years before when her relationship with her mother Sophie (Bello) soured. Sophie, who struggles with chronic depression, was left by her first husband and remarried a sweet man who is inexplicably murdered by a frightening entity at the onset of the film. Rebecca’s young step brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) still lives at home.

The narrative hook locks in when Martin begins falling asleep at school. Child services investigates the problem and it is discovered that Sophie has been neglecting to take her medication. Rebecca, as a secondary guardian, is reluctantly called upon to help. Martin explains to her that he doesn’t sleep well anymore because Sophie is talking to herself again and refuses to turn the lights on in the house.

Rebecca and her lovelorn boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) set out to discover the mystery behind Sophie’s strange behavior and help young Martin feel safe at home once more.

The boogeyman? A dark, terrifying creature named Diana.

Rebecca scours the research once painstakingly compiled by her stepfather until she finds evidence to suggest Diana was once a friend of Sophie’s. A friend she picked up at a mental institution when they were only young girls.

Throughout the film, I found myself wondering if Diana was real, imaginary, spectral or demonic. She is possessive, violent, and terrifying. She affects everyone in Sophie’s family. She steals their peace, their happiness, their sleep.

Then it hit me. Diana is Depression. Personified.

Martin has trouble paying attention in school. Rebecca is frozen in time, unable to mature or settle down. She sports self-harm scars on her upper arms. Sophie is a basket case, replete with tremors, erratic thought patterns and strange habits.

Sometimes mental illness is painted with a light, loving hand, a la Silver Linings PlaybookBenny & Joon, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. But sometimes mental illness is a monster, and sometimes the monster is you. Where’s Drop Dead Fred when you need him?

As a depression sufferer, this film hit me hard. The end took my breath away and I bawled like a frightened kitten, reminded all too suddenly that invisible illnesses are no less dangerous or harmful. If you’ve ever had anyone you love peer at you sideways and ask how many days it’s been since you took your medication, this film will legit haunt you.

I’m going to go call my family now and tell them that I love them. You probably should too.

About the Contributor

This is A.C.!  She’s an unofficial member of geekdom and loves board games, tabletop games, video games, mind games… just kidding. Or are we? A.C. has written a novel and a half and is hoping to be published, as the habit of writing is growing harder to shake. She lives in Interlaken, which is in rural upstate New York. Her heroes are her cat, Fiddle, and Captain Kathryn Janeway.