Lights Out is an old-fashioned, talk back to the movie screen kind of horror movie.
Is that a good thing? It depends on how clever the folks are in your particular theater. The other X factor? What’s your tolerance for dumb horror movie characters making increasingly daffy decisions?
One thing’s clear. “Lights Out” delivers on the shared theatrical experience like few recent films. Yes, “The Conjuring 2” is superior, but it spends so much time on trifles like plot, characters and dialogue.
“Lights Out” goes for the jugular in its opening moments. It refuses to let go for 81 compact minutes.
Just ask the loudmouth behind you shouting advice to the main characters.
Teresa Palmer stars as Rebecca, a young woman fighting for control over her little brother. Their mother, a bedraggled Maria Bello, isn’t Mom of the Year material. She’s got issues, to be kind, although Rebecca may be working through some of her own angst by taking lil’ Martin (Gabriel Bateman) away.
Turns out sis’ instincts are sound. There’s something wicked stalking this dysfunctional bunch, a presence that only lashes out in pitch darkness.
And wouldn’t you know the lights keep flickering at the very worst times possible.
Lights Out … And So Are Context and Depth
The set up is eerily simple, nimbly playing off our real fears of the dark. With that abbreviated running time, there’s no room for backstory, context or even logical plotting.
We quickly learn enough about the threat. Too bad the numbskull characters don’t appear as frightened as they should be. It’s like a Cliffs Notes version of a classic horror tale. So where’s the source material again?
Who cares? The scares start early, and they run through the film like a ghost hopped up on speed.
There’s something to be said about a horror movie keenly aware of its own limitations. The story is threadbare, the family dynamics arranged neatly for our approval. That leaves more time for the slinking beastie that keeps finding ways to put out the lights.
Think the creature from “The Ring” doused in black ink.
Palmer is just fine as the resourceful heroine, and her growing fondness for her lovestruck beau (Alexander DiPersia) is genuinely sweet. It’s the one true emotion beyond raw fear the movie nails.
Feature newbie David F. Sandberg shows a real flair for showmanship. You can picture him growing into the genre, using his next few films to build the layers required for any great horror movie. He’s all plucked nerve endings here, the raw material behind any sturdy horror tale.
Yet the cast is good and ready for something more. They just never get it.
FAST FACT David F. Sandberg’s “Lights Out” began as a two and a half minute online short.
It’d be a shame to see “Lights Out” get the predictable franchise treatment. Yes, there’s plenty of backstory left unexplored. The gimmick here is tight and raw and real, and depositing it into a series of films could be the equivalent of pointing a klieg light on the main attraction.
Let’s just enjoy “Lights Out” for what it is. And if you still can’t stand strangers squawking all around you, better catch an early matinee.
HiT or MISS? ‘Lights Out’ delivers the naked horror goods, but expect anything else and you’ll be scared half to death.
“Ice Age: Collision Course”
The fifth “Ice Age” film hearkens back to a time when adults dropped their kids off at the movies and went shopping for 90-odd minutes.
Once upon a time, before Pixar raised the bar deliriously high, that’s simply what you did.
“Ice Age: Collision Course” is a not entirely welcome trip back in time. The franchise is now strictly for youngsters despite those Looney Tunes homages.
There’s nothing aggressively wrong with that. We’re given cutesy characters, some lip service to the family unit and more lisping blather from Sid the Sloth. Beyond that, there’s precious little for adults to relish.
Better to sit back, mentally balance your checkbook and know your young ones will get your money’s worth.
“Collision Course” begins with, who else, Scrat the squirrel. He’s still chasing that elusive acorn, but this time he’s doing so in space!
Having set the silly plot in motion, we return to earth to join the mild drama already in progress.
Manny (Ray Romano) fears losing his daughter to an overly eager beau (Adam Devine). Sid (John Leguizamo) is love sick and fears he’ll never meet the sloth of his dreams.
None of that matters when they realize a giant asteroid is heading to the earth. Thanks, Scrat. That leaves our old “Ice Age” friends scrambling to save themselves … and the planet.
There’s something comfortable about Manny and his lady love (Queen Latifah) gently squabbling once more. It also reminds us of the stale sitcoms with the buffoonish dad being schooled by virtually everyone around him.
Even six year olds might blow the whistle on this cliche.
We do eventually get some sweet lessons about family, and a father’s need to finally let go of his children. The story also reminds us of what can be achieved when friends work together toward a common goal.
These positive messages take up scant screen time. It’s all about the sitcom level antics and silly sight gags.
To get there, we see a crush of new characters, none of who threaten to dislodge Thumper from his snug place in pop culture.
And poor Denis Leary. His Diego was once a fearsome beast. Now, he’s a sabertooth tiger without bite. One wishes Leary would cut loose in the recording studio and the animators would tae their cues from there.
It’s amazing that Sid hasn’t worn out his welcome yet. Scrat has, no doubt, but Sid’s lisping delivery and innocence remain the franchise’s key selling point.
The visuals are crisp, the compositions routinely engaging. The story has a made-for-TV feel, but the production values are sturdy. It’s hardly a game changer, but there’s genuine love put into the presentation.
And there’s little at fault with the vocal cast. Wanda Sykes’ sassy grandma is blessedly given modest screen time. Latifah generates maternal love with every phrase. She’s a natural, and we’ve yet to see her talents fully tapped on the big screen.
Children who pine for butt-related humor will delight in “Collision Course.” It’s never inappropriate, but buttocks play a role in more than a few punch lines.
And if you think the word, “duty” has a funny second meaning, have we got a movie for you.
The end of the world is a pretty depressing plot for a children’s film. “Collision Course” never lets that reality sink in. It’s merely an excuse for old friends to reunite and parents to take a mental time out for their kids’ sake.
HiT or Miss: The fifth “Ice Age” installment should be the last. Only your easily impressed children may still pine for more.