Here’s a question for you. Someone you know has returned shaken and pale, from wherever they were going and asked you to check out the mysterious smells/sounds/sights coming from an unused passageway/room that they were just in. As you dutifully approach, you see green and purple clouds coming from underneath the closed door, hear moans, and when you turn around, the coatrack has somehow positioned itself directly behind you. Your first response is to:
a) Run like hell in the opposite direction.
b) Keep going! All the while whispering, “Hello? Hello? Is anybody there?” until any light is extinguished, and you are attacked by a supernatural creature from whose talons you barely manage to extract yourself from because you have chosen a time to investigate when you have no backup.
Well, most people would pick a) because they’re too smart to be a character in a horror movie, but not the crew in “Lights Out.” Fortunately, all of them have the IQ of a houseplant and the commonsense of a Dorito, so it takes them quite awhile to resolve the mystery that arises. First, we meet Billy Burke, who agrees to check out the mysterious presence which has frightened his coworker, but it’s during the first ten minutes, so I hope I’m not spoiling anything when I report that he does not survive. Fast forward, and his adult daughter (Teresa Palmer) gets a call from her little brother’s (Gabriel Bateman) school, and when she investigates she finds that their mom (Maria Bello) is off her meds again and scaring the crap out of the boy by insisting that her mysterious friend named “Diana” (Alicia Vela-Bailey) is living with them, only she prefers the lights out. The social worker from Child Protective Services is also not a rocket scientist, and does not become suspicious that a family would produce two children behaving oddly but similarly in different time periods. Thus she informs Teresa that she disapproves of her trying to gain custody of her little brother. So with only her memories of this Diana person, Teresa starts rummaging through mom’s stuff and discovers that she was (another spoiler but not a huge one) a patient at a mental hospital when she was a girl. Could this possibly be where she first hooked up with Diana? Eventually, Teresa getting nowhere with her mom, decides to spend the night with her and Gabriel (with her boyfriend Alexander DiPersia), and that is when things start to get ugly.
So why do they insist on staying overnight in a haunted house? Because the little boy won’t be separated from his mom, and I’m sorry, but that’s when, as an older sibling, you pull rank and take the kid to a hotel, while explaining that mom has gone off her “vitamins,” but that you are really, really going to try and get her help. Anyway, Diana wreaks quite a bit of havoc but is ultimately vanquished, though not without a big sacrifice. To compare it to last year’s “The Visit,” the plusses are that it’s much shorter, no one gets hit in the face with the contents of an adult diaper, and the little boy doesn’t rap a single note. My audience didn’t seem too scared, and most of it will probably remind you of other horror movies, but again, it doesn’t waste time pretending to be anything other than entertainment.