17 September 2016

Alone In The Dark?

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Whilst watching Lights Out I was reminded of a little phase I once went through when I was younger. When I was a child there was a period in which every night I would see the Grim Reaper stood at the bottom of my bed just watching me. My Mum would turn the light on and reveal that it was actually just the shadow of some cuddly-toys combined with with a hung up dressing gown, but fuck her.. I know what I saw. From that point on I insisted on going to sleep with the light on due to my own little quirk of finding it easier to nod off when I couldn't see fucking demons. I was probably about eight when I began seeing him and so it's been a long time since I had Death stood over me as I lay in my bed. Shame really, because life seems to get shitter with age and so I don't think I'd really be too fucked about a visit from that cloaked prick at this point.

Lights Out relies on pretty much that exact concept when it comes to its central selling point. Turn the lights off and you'll see the dark silhouette of a demon heading towards you; turn the lights on and it'll disappear. Of course you could argue that of all the movie monsters to exist, this one has to be the easiest to destroy, right? Freddie Kruger will kill you in your dreams, Michael Myers is seemingly immortal, but buy yourself a nightlight and this one is well and truly fucked. The brilliance of the film is therefore in what connects the monster to its victims and why turning the lights on might not be quite so simple. Rather than going for the easy solution of focussing on a family of dwarves who are too short to reach the switch, the creature actually has a relationship with the family mother and is clearly representative of her obvious mental problems. Remember how the monster of The Babadook was metaphorical of the mum's screwy brain? Well it's basically the same deal here. At least that was my reading of the film anyway. There was a variety of people in the showing of this film that I was at and I'm pretty sure that at least one posh family there simply read it as being the fear that they feel when Mummy makes friends with a black person.

So it'd be easy to criticise this film due to its use of some overly familiar horror techniques. It does have the 'quiet, quiet- BOO' moments, along with loads of knockings on doors followed by nobody being on the other side. Although I'd fucking love it if I heard a knock on my door and there was nobody actually on the other side to have to deal with. However these cliches are all kind of unavoidable considering the nature of the monster. I mean, it lives in the shadows, so every time the lights go out and it's just there you're going to get a jump scare aren't you!? I'm sure the tricksy little demon would love to creep its victims out more subtly by liking one of their Facebook statuses from a few years ago or by doing a shit in their fish tank. But, you know.. It can't.. so never mind! However as easy as it'd be to criticise this aspect, I think you'd kind of be wrong to due to how effectively the scares are actually done here. In fact, along with Hush and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, I'd say that Lights Out is one of the best horror films of the year.

Although I guess the main wonder should be as to how the film does indeed manage to keep itself feeling so fresh if it's using such obviously tried and tested scares. Well, for me, I think it comes down to three things. Firstly its basic idea is one that I'm sure that we can all relate to, isn't it? I didn't watch The Shining and come away with a fear of old hotels and ghost butlers being sucked off by men dressed as dogs. Nor did I watch Susperia and decide I'd never be going to ballet school in case it was run by a coven of witches. I'm not going to ballet school because my dancing is so bad that I'd have tripped over my own feet and broken my fucking neck by the end of lesson one. However seeing shadows in the night and finding some sort of human form to them is presumably something we've all done, isn't it? Being paranoid of movement in the dark must also be tapping into some sort of primordial fear we all have buried deep within the un-evolved caveman part of our brain. You know.. the bit that also retains our subconscious fear of claws and explains the still-popular hobby of finding the cutest little dear in the forest and then using a shotgun to blast its tiny little face from its fucking skull.

The second reason I believe this film works is because I genuinely liked all of the characters that were involved and thought that the performances were completely believable. For a start there was actually an interesting subversion with the lead actress who has a completely dedicated boyfriend that she's having issues committing to. Usually Hollywood likes to have a macho heroic male lead with a naggy girlfriend to drip all over him whilst occasionally treating us to a cheeky glimpse of tit. So it was nice to have it the other way around for a change. Here she plays a daughter that's estranged from her mother and that slowly gains a maternal Aliens Ripley/Newt dynamic with her own younger brother. A younger brother that didn't irritate the living shit out of me, by the way. As is scientific fact, children are just tiny little adults with stupid fucking brains that cause them to annoy everybody around them. And yet the kid in this movie seemed pretty cool. Unlike most horror films, the point wasn't for me to enjoy seeing people die but rather to hope they survive. This is also quite the achievement considering the audience I was watching the film with were refusing to shut the fuck up and so seeing people die would have been quite therapeutic for me at that point.

The third and final main reason that I think this film stands above the majority of horror films that are shat out is because it was actually about something. For me, it's obviously about mental illness with the mother's issues being represented by the creature. Although I did read one bad review of this film which argued that Lights Out was actually right-wing propaganda that aims to show the destructive capability of a lesbian relationship. But for this to be true, the bond between mother and monster would surely have to be two-way wouldn't it? The creature represents the mothers depression because it's something that she's forced to live with and yet is trying her best to fight against or repress. If this film was a comment on same sex relationships then that would be implying that lesbianism works by having one woman force herself into another woman's life and for both to stick together until one finds a way of escaping. We're all obviously allowed our own interpretation of any film but to then give the film a 'one star' review on that bullshit theory seems a bit harsh. Although if that is how lesbianism works then I guess that would finally explain what the 'it's complicated' relationship option means on Facebook.

To conclude, I'd therefore say that any horror fan owes it to themselves to see Lights Out and I can whole heartedly say that I can't wait to see it again. Especially check it out too before the inevitable sequel is churned out in order to quickly cash in on this cheaply made but effectively executed movie. As well as The Babadook, I think another film that you could compare it to might be Mama. Well, I mean technically you could compare any film to any film really, it's just that if you wanted one that it doesn't have fuck all in common with then Mama is one that jumped to mind. The design of the creature is a little similar in both, and both are based on an idea that was initially conceived for a short film. However at eighty minutes Lights Out was hardly expanded into an epic which is another point in its favour. I'd seen two films at the cinema that evening and in the hour between showings I'd stupidly reverted to my English nature and necked about four cups of tea. If it had been two hours long the film, would have felt dragged out and I'd have probably found myself sat in a small caffeine filled puddle of piss. But a film that's eighty minutes long? Literally perfect! Thanks for reading motherfuckers, and see you next time!  

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