Spoiler Space: Lights Out

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Spoiler Space: Lights Out

Photo: Warner Bros.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot points we can’t reveal in our review.

Judged strictly as a scare generator, Lights Out is rock solid, especially for a PG-13 horror movie. The premise—a monster that can attack only in the dark—is familiar but still ingenious, and first-time feature filmmaker David F. Sandberg has a lot of fun playing with the creature’s impermanence, as faulty lightbulbs (and a million other unreliable light sources) flicker it in and out of the frame. But like a lot of modern horror movies, Lights Out wants its monster to be more than a monster. The film wants to be about something—specifically, clinical depression. That’s where it runs into serious trouble.

Narratively, the film’s apparitional adversary turns out to be the ghost of a light-averse mental patient; she died at the same hospital where Sophie (Maria Bello) stayed as a little girl, her spirit attaching itself to Sophie’s consciousness. Of course, as it becomes almost instantly clear, Diana is also a metaphoric manifestation of the depression that killed (a.k.a. implicitly drove away) multiple husbands and makes life difficult for her children. And so that puts a very unsavory spin on the film’s climax, in which Sophie—realizing that Diana lives only through her mind—puts a gun to her head and squeezes the trigger, killing the monster once and for all.

What the hell are we to make of this ending? Lights Out is inarguably a film about depression. That element is so heavy-handed that it practically consumes the movie; if you removed all traces of creature-feature horror, whole scenes and pages of dialogue would remain intact. That means that it’s basically impossible to ignore this aspect (the way you can ignore the vaguely symbolic nature of the It Follows monster, for example). Since you can’t ignore it, you’re left watching a film about a mother who frees her family from the burden of her illness by committing suicide. The final scene, of her two kids and the boyfriend sitting in an ambulance, conveys an uncomfortable sense of relief: The nightmare is over; the dark cloud over our lives has passed; we can finally start living. It’s practically a happy ending! I’m sorry, but that’s a supremely fucked-up message (inadvertent or not) to put out into the world. It’s akin to that misguided “Genie, you’re free” meme that made the web rounds after Robin Williams committed suicide. And it sullies the simple genre pleasures Lights Out otherwise provides.