So I relaxed with a glass of red and a movie last night. My intention was to switch off but instead I found myself making notes as the film unfolded. The film in question was last year’s Lights Out.
It’s a short film at just over 80 minutes. I don’t think it needed to be much longer than that. Everything that needed saying was said well enough in that time.
What’s more there’s really only a handful of characters to cling to. This I liked.
Sophie (played by the always lovely Maria Bello, whom I recently saw and enjoyed in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) is the central character. Her troubled childhood and constant struggles with her mental health form the backstory and provide us with our antagonist, Diana.
Diana, only visible in the darkness
So it’s Diana that gives us all the scares and provides us with an intriguing hook. What I liked here was that the initial events in the film gave me something to immediately care about. Albeit in the form of ‘what the fuck is going on?’
Diana is a malevolent spirit that has latched onto Sophie. Sophie is very much alive, Diana isn’t.
The backstory explains how Diana came to be the dark spirit and involves experiments and rare skin disorders. Since this was 80 minutes of research I found myself noting down rather a lot of backstory. Perhaps the whole kid-with-a-skin-condition thing could have been implied somehow. I don’t know. It seemed to occupy a fair bit of screen time evaluating how Diana came to be.
Regardless, it was effective and we are left with a suitably shifty and sinister ‘bad guy’.
So Diana can only be seen and can only be active in the darkness. If confronted by said spirit, simply flick a light on.
All too easy, right? Wrong. Diana appears to have some sway over the power situation and can disable the lights. Even lighting a fire doesn’t appear to work for too long.
Whatever, the point of the scare dynamics is that dark = bad, light = good. It makes the film uncomplicated and easy to watch.
Because the cast was pretty light I found myself actually caring about them all. Rebecca, Sophie’s daughter, and her brother Martin seem to be always in the thick of it. Naturally looking out for one another whilst trying to ‘fix’ their mother.
Rebecca’s boyfriend Bret plays his role, also.
But Sophie has problems. She has serious mental health issues. Always has, by the looks of it. When she’s taking her meds Diana doesn’t trouble anyone. When she’s off the meds, Diana causes havoc.
A simple dynamic. Stay on yer meds, Mother!
But of course Sophie doesn’t want to be the nutcase. She wants to be clean and free of the meds so occasionally lapses. She’s weak. Ultimately that weakness tells as she sacrifices herself for the sake of her children. With Sophie gone, Diana is gone. Apparently.
So after 80 minutes I was left feeling reasonably satisfied by the story and suitably buoyed into adding a little more to my own creepy ghost story.
The dynamic of weird shit existing in the darkness only to vanish with the lights on isn’t terribly original. But it was quite satisfyingly executed.
It felt a lot like a college film. An independent kid’s project that had received some Hollywood funding. It also echoed the creepy turn of the century Japanese horror that gave us Ring and Dark Water. No bad thing.
I think the point (if there needs to be one) that I’m trying to arrive at here is that you don’t need buckets of dollars to make an effective movie. You just need a captivating story and the ability to communicate it while the camera’s rolling.