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Film / Lights Out (2016)

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Lights Out is a supernatural horror film directed by David F. Sandberg in his directorial debut and written by Eric Heisserer. The film stars Maria Bello, Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman and Alexander DiPersia.

The film is a feature-length adaptation of Sandberg's 2013 short horror film of the same name (with Lotta Losten, Sandberg's real-life wife, appearing in both the short and this film, albeit as different characters).

The plot revolves around a young woman who must confront her childhood fears to protect her brother from a vengeful supernatural entity holding a mysterious attachment to their mother who is only visible in dim light.

The movie was released by New Line Cinema on July 22, 2016. A sequel is reported to be in production, while social worker Emma Glover (a character from this film played by Andi Osho) appeared in another New Line film from the same director, SHAZAM!, thus tying it in with the DC Extended Universe.

Trope examples include:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The original short film was just over two minutes long; this movie has an 81-minute runtime.
  • All Take and No Give: Diana's relationship with Sophie is completely one-sided. Diana forces Sophie into utter subservience and physically harms her if she gets in the way.
  • The Artifact: A lot of the way Diana appears and acts makes a bit more sense when one knows that Sandberg had originally written her as a demon that was feeding off of Sophie's grief. Notably, the idea that Diana somehow goes away/is sealed away whenever Sophie is mentally well comes from this idea. James Wan had suggested to Sandberg (as the latter explains in his DVD commentary) that making Diana a ghost with a personal connection to Sophie would have played out better character-wise, hence the change. The idea that Diana is connected to Sophie is retained by explaining that the two had a very close (if unhealthy) bond as children.
  • Ax-Crazy: Diana was a total mental case even in life, as she forced her dad to kill himself For the Evulz, then broke Sophie's legs after hearing she might be released from the hospital soon. After her... transition into a shadow-lurking monstrosity, she's only got worse.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Teresa Palmer as Rebecca. While she does get hurt quite often throughout the course of the film, very few of the injuries are of any significant concern, if they are even there to begin with. Even her makeup and eyeliner are still remarkably intact during the movie's closure despite her being roughed up considerably by Diana beforehand.
  • Berserk Button: Try to help Sophie 'get better' and Diana will end you.
  • Big Sister Instinct: The main plot is kicked off because, when Rebecca gets a call that Martin had had problems in school and needs someone to come over, she doesn't hesitate to come over, and then decides to let him stay with her until Sophie is back on her meds.
  • Can't Live Without You: Seemingly why Diana is so fixated on Sophie after the experiment - if Sophie gets better, Diana can't interact with anyone.
  • Control Freak: Diana, full stop. She controls every single part of Sophie's life and rules her through fear.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted - the movie makes a big case of Martin hiding a flash light in a box outside his room. He never reaches it.
    • A literal example: Sophie uses a gun from one of the cops Diana killed earlier to end things between her and Diana once and for all.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Non-romantic example with Diana, even before her apparent "death" at the hands of the asylum doctors.
  • Creepy Basement: The main characters' household has one, complete with creepy mannequins and such. Martin and Rebecca are both lured down to and become trapped in it for quite a stretch of the movie's final third. Also doubles as a Room Full of Crazy (see below), where it is also Diana's "prison" for quite some time before she manages to break free and kill Rebecca's father.
  • Darkness Equals Death: The entity has no power when there's a light source strong enough nearby. In total darkness though...
    • While the blacklight tube renders her visible, it is not powerful enough to harm or make her vanish. It does give her victims a clue where to point their regular lights, though, which hurts her real good as the blacklight prevents her from vanishing.
  • Death-Activated Superpower: While Diana could only penetrate and manipulate the minds of those around her when she was still technically alive and human, her accidental demise during the experimental light therapy turned her into a demonic Living Shadow who dwells and is capable of near-omnipresence where ever the lights don't shine, and armed with Wolverine Claws that can instantly kill anyone stupid enough to venture inside her domain. Granted, she is rendered powerless by bright lights, but anything short of natural sunlight can be expected to be shut off by her at the most unfortunate of moments.
  • Death by Cameo: Billy Burke does not last beyond the cold open.
  • Disappeared Dad: All we know about Rebecca's father was that he ran away when she was 10, severed all ties and never looked back. It is revealed in the climax however that he was killed off by Diana because he was making Sophie feel better, thus able to keep Diana from manifesting.
  • Driven to Suicide: Diana mind rapes her dad to the point he becomes this. At the climax, Sophie kills herself to break Diana's only link to the physical world.
  • Enfant Terrible: Diana. When she was found by the cops at the age of 12, she had already caused her dad to commit suicide via playing mind games with him. She befriended Sophie at the mental hospital, where she then attacked her with enough force to break her legs. To put it lightly, she was not known for being very nice even as a human.
  • Evil Sounds Raspy: Diana speaks in a gruff and hissing voice. The sinister part is that it is implied it was her regular voice even when she was a little child.
  • Eye Scream: One of the cops who goes after Diana is seen with her eyes carved out shortly thereafter. Given the state of Sophie's husband in the opening scenes, this might just be Diana's MO.
  • The Faceless: Almost all of Diana's screentime has her appearance completely masked by the darkness in which she dwells, with the only discernible features being her Glowing Eyes of Doom. We do get to briefly see what she looks like near the end, though, as a horribly scarred, burnt woman with blank white eyes and a perpetually snarling expression.
  • Fan Disservice: When we finally see Diana in her full form, albeit quite briefly, she's revealed to be a naked, slim woman but all scarred and burnt, probably caused by her exposure to the sun light when she was alive.
  • Foreshadowing: Rebecca has a poster of what seems to be a snarling female vampire with long fingernails on her wall. Guess what the Big Bad looks like when her visage is revealed under blacklight near the end of the movie.
  • Freudian Slip: In the deleted alternate ending that's available on the DVD, Martin slips and calls Becca "Mom" after she and Bret have officially gained custody of him.
  • Goth: Subverted with Rebecca. While she blasts loud music all night, wears black clothing for almost 95% of her screen time, has all manners of heavy metal band posters, paraphernalia and even pictures of devils, vampires and whatnot on her walls, she is actually more of a young woman who's really into punk and grungy stuff instead.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Diana is quite prone to violent anger if things don't go as she planned or simply because something hit on her nerves.
  • Hell Is That Noise: You will soon dread the sound of fingernails scraping against the floor.
    • Not to mention Diana's deranged and barbaric screams...
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Sophie unwilling to let Diana kill her children and knowing she's Diana's anchor to the world, kills herself with a shot to the head at the end.
  • Humanoid Abomination: After Diana's special "treatment", one could agree that she has become something much worse than a simple run-of-the-mill ghost.
  • Immune to Bullets: Officer Andrews tries to kill the slowly advancing Diana with his pistol, but she merely uses the brief muzzle flashes to Teleport Spam herself out of the way of the bullets.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • The two police officers seem to be staunch holders of the ball, who completely disregard the frantic warnings of Bret, Martin and Rebecca about the importance of their flashlights against the creature stalking the halls. One of them even splits from the group to look for her clearly-dead partner despite the main characters pleadings for her to take at least the blacklight tube. Life expectancy is measured in seconds.
    • The group separates when they decide to spend the night at Sophie's. Despite the fact that they know Diana's in home and she's going to come at them this night. Somewhat justified in that, like Martin have said, it wouldn't matter where they decide to spend the night since "nowhere is safe" with Diana prowling around unless they can end it once and for all by bringing some sense of clarity back to their mother. That being said, it still makes no sense to split up.
  • Improbable Weapon User: A nonlethal variation with Bret. While being attacked by Diana, he uses incredibly quick thinking to utilize first his smartphone backlight and then his car headlights in order to keep Diana at bay — both unexpected weapons, as the group was using only candles and flashlights up until that point.
  • It Can Think: After spending the first half of the movie clawing at the floor and walls like an animal, Diana sets a trap for Rebecca and Martin in the basement, then methodically takes out their sources of light. During the finale she also emotionally torments Rebecca, telling her that she killed Rebecca's father.
  • Jump Scare: Happens frequently as is the staple of any horror work associated with James Wan, though noticeably tamer under Sandberg's direction. Most of the time Diana's arrival is deliberately heralded by a series of loud scratches and lights flickering on and off, so the audience is already given time to prepare themselves for the eventual Scare Chord.
  • Karmic Death: In so many ways. Diana's final demise comes at the hands of the woman she tormented during and after her physical life and the weapon used to do it is a pistol Sophie obtained from a cop Diana killed earlier.
    • Moreover, Diana needed Sophie to stay alive and crazy in order to exist, but her actions (specifically threatening Sophie's kids and then trying to off Rebecca right in front of her) are what lead Sophie to regain her sanity and realize that she can destroy Diana by killing herself.
  • Lights Off, Somebody Dies: The entire film and its source material are based on someone dying thanks to an unseen entity who strikes when the lights go out.
  • Living Shadow: Throughout the majority of the film, Diana appears as an entity that takes on the looks of a silhouette of a woman with Glowing Eyes of Doom that can only be seen on the threshold between brightly lit and dark rooms, though she does have an actual, physical form that can be seen under blacklight.
  • Madden Into Misanthropy: Diana, by virtue of her skin condition that caused light to harm her, was kept in the basement by her father until the age of 12, when he committed suicide due to her psychic ability. She then fixates on Sophie while at the asylum, and severely injures her after hearing about Sophie's possible release. The Creepy Basement hints that Diana may have been trapped alone from the time of the light experiment to Sophie's first husband "leaving".
  • Mama Bear: Ultimately, Diana threatening Martin and Rebecca's lives is what breaks her grip over Sophie. Sophie shoots herself in the head to banish Diana's ghost.
    Rebecca: Mom, what are you doing?
  • Mind Rape: Call it either a gift or curse, Diana was born with the ability to reach into and manipulate the minds of those around her. Whatever she did to them the audience never knows, but from the documents gathered on her past it was presumably very terrifying and/or disturbing, so much so that Diana's father himself had to lock her in the basement and then take his own life to end his suffering.
  • Missing Mom: Diana's mother was not mentioned at all as being part of her family unit in the documents provided by the asylum.
  • Monster Threat Expiration: Diana kills Paul, and the two cops almost instantly. Yet she takes a long time attempting to kill Rebecca at the end, even gearing up to give the final blow, allowing more time for Sophie to make the save. She also takes her sweet time trying to kill Bret, which gives him multiple chances to escape her. In particular at the end she just raises him over her head, holding him there long enough doing nothing for him fumble in his pockets, find his car keys and activate his car headlights.
  • Mundanger: The movie mixes supernatural horror with the very real fact that families and especially children have to deal with a parent going insane, and the question of Martin's custody is briefly addressed.
  • Muzzle Flashlight: Exploited in the climax. While Officer Andrews could see Diana's silhouette very clearly in the dark as she advances towards him, the muzzle flashes from his pistol are bright enough to briefly render her invisible (and thus invincible) between each and every shot. Not that it helped him much in the end anyway.
  • Mythology Gag: Paul's employee is played by Lotta Losten, who plays the protagonist of the short film. And like in the short film, she turns the lights on and off repeatedly when she first spots the mysterious shadow...
  • Nice Guy: Bret is consistently depicted as an all around decent person.
  • Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: When Rebecca was a child and drew a picture of herself and her parents, Diana crossed out Rebecca's father in the picture, drew a stick figure of herself and wrote her own name next to it. As an adult, Rebecca returns to her mother's house and finds the same picture, providing evidence that Diana is real.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: During the climax, while Rebecca is venturing in the basement with the neon lamp, she past beyond some sinister-looking mannequins not knowing that Diana is hidden among them by having her back turned. This actually gives her the advantage of attacking her when she less expects it.
  • No Body Left Behind: The only thing left of Diana after the experimental light therapy gone wrong is a blast shadow of a person imprinted onto the chair and some pieces of charred remains scattered here and there. With what she became afterward, it becomes very easy to piece together what the result of her treatment was.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: A unique variation. Diana was indeed a real human, until she was the subject of an experiment that turned into a shadow-lurking monster linked to Sophie's mentality.
  • Off with His Head!: Diana's father blew his head off with a shotgun after having had enough of his daughter's mind games.
  • Psychic Powers: Diana was born with psychic abilities and puts them to horrifying effective use tormenting her dad until he blows his head off to make such psychological torture end.
  • Parental Abandonment: Sophie's first husband abandoned her and their daughter Rebecca. In reality, Diana killed him, as he was making Sophie more stable and thus able to keep Diana from manifesting.
  • Police Are Useless: The officers who show up disregard the warnings about Diana and her weakness to light and end up getting themselves killed before they can be of any use.
  • Practically Different Generations: Their ages aren't specified, but Rebecca is probably somewhere in her late twenties to early thirties. Her maternal half brother Martin on the other hand, is maybe around 8 to 10 years old. Through most of the film, Rebecca is battling with their mutual mother for custody over Martin.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The CPS worker is sympathetic to everyone involved, and explains, in detail, the kind of investment Rebecca would have to make if she really wanted to push for a custody fight over Martin with her mother.
  • Red Shirt:
    • The two police officers basically only show up to be killed by Diana, allowing Sophie to find one of their guns which she uses to kill herself and Diana.
    • Subverted briefly at the beginning of the movie. If the viewer has already seen Sandberg's original short film, chances are they would be very much inclined to assume something...unpleasant, will happen to Esther as the light switch scene plays out. Nothing happens. She ran away as soon as Diana's silhouette moved, though again we never get to see what happens after she left Paul's office, so...
  • Red Right Hand: Even as a child, Diana was allergic to sunlight.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Rebecca stumbles on the one Diana inhabited during the time when she couldn't talk to Sophie. It is covered in Diana's ramblings and has disturbing sculptures of Diana and Sophie with their faces torn up.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Diana seems capable of this when exposed to bright lights. Like when she moves from the closet to under the bed. Used frequently and interchangeably with Light-Flicker Teleportation.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Subverted. Bret seemingly flees for his life after being attacked by Diana, but it soon turns out he only left so he could go call the police.
    • Played straight with Esther at the beginning of the movie who dropped everything she was doing and left the building as soon as she knew something unpleasant was lurking the halls.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Sophie doesn't believe Diana to be a ghost, and instead believes that her death was faked. She somehow justifies all of Diana's abilities as a product of her illness and when Rebecca confronts Sophie she outright says that ghosts don't exist. By the end however she accepts that she's lying to herself and that Diana needs her to exist, leading Sophie to kill herself to save her kids.
  • Sequel Hook: While the sequel was only greenlit after the movie's release, it's lightly fore"shadowed" when the lights flicker in the ambulance that Bret, Rebecca and Martin are sitting in. While it's played off as the engine turning over, it's a nicely ambiguous hint that Diana might not be gone for good.
  • Soul Jar: It's the key to dealing with the monster. Only the Soul Jar is Sophie herself - she can contain Diana when on her meds and stable, but without them, Diana is free. Diana thus aims to keep Sophie as mentally unsound as possible. Ultimately Sophie kills herself to save Rebecca, and this instantly kills Diana.
  • Silent Antagonist: Subverted. While Diana initially appears to be this, she is actually capable of speech which she later demonstrates by hissing out threats at Rebecca when she and Martin attempt to make their mother feel better.
  • Smart Ball: Surprisingly for the genre, everyone has a pretty firm grasp of this, to the point that Bret fled in order to get the police to help with Diana and, while they ultimately proved useless, were more than willing to come out to the house and investigate upon seeing his wounds
    • Esther also has a pretty firm grip on said ball as when she finally figured out that there's an inhuman monster in the building she's in, she wastes no time in dropping everything and booking it instead of investigating further. Something which may or may not have saved her from being brutally murdered.
  • The Sociopath: Diana is revealed to be this. She first leads her own father to suicide by playing mind tricks with him then she brainwashed a young Sophie into believing they were friends when she actually used her as a mere servant. As a ghost she's even willing to kill anyone who could cure Sophie from her illness, even her own small kid.
  • Suicide for Others' Happiness: As mentioned already, Sophie commits suicide in order to stop Diana's rampage - so less "happiness" and more "survival", but the underlying implication is there.
  • Taking You with Me: Sophie kills herself, as she's Diana's anchor to this world, to save Rebecca.
  • Tempting Fate: As Rebecca, Martin and Bret prepare to spend a night in home where they know Diana is, knowing that Diana has killed and will kill if she feels threatened once night falls. Rebecca approaches Bret to tell him that She'll sleep in her little brother's room at his request, meaning Bret (who knows the least about Diana) will be sleeping alone in the living room. She then promises him that after tonight, she'll let him move some of his stuff into her apartment, implying she's finally accepting his request for the two of them to have a closer relationship, and talks about how happy they'll be. All this to convince the audience Bret is going to die. Furthered when Bret later walks outside alone when Diana cuts the power to the neighborhood. Against all odds, both Bret and Rebecca live.
  • Ten-Second Flashlight: While not exactly limited to ten seconds, most mobile light sources in the movie tend to die out very quickly after being introduced, often at the most unfortunate of times. Played almost straight by Rebecca's hand-crank flashlight which dies out after about a minute and Bret's mobile only providing a few seconds worth of light before entering sleep mode.
  • Title Drop: Keep the lights out.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Evil lurking specter or no, any cop worth his or her badge should simply know better than to enter a darkened area without a flashlight, especially after being summoned and warned by a clearly wounded occupant of said house.
  • Villain Ball: Diana in her attempts to drive away anyone who wants to try and make Sophie more lucid. Not content with scaring just Martin in his own home, she proceeds to attack Rebecca at her place too, who had a falling out with Sophie long ago and at present couldn't care less about her mother. This inadvertently draws even more attention to herself after Rebecca starts investigating into her mother's past.
    • What ends up doing her in is Diana finally deciding to try and kill Rebecca in front of her mother, as this gives Sophie all the mental clarity and resolution she needs to end things for good.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Diana starts to become more desperate to kill everyone around Sophie to keep her crazy to the point that she just goes on a rampage and slaughters everyone in her path. She even attacks her Soul Jar with murderous intent when she tries to get in the way once again.
  • Weakened by the Light: Diana. Before and after she became a monster.
  • Was Once a Man: Diana was once human before she got carbonised by an experiment Gone Horribly Wrong and came back as a shadow-lurking Humanoid Abomination.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Esther. The audience is never shown what happened to her after she left Paul's office. It is however implied that the short film actually depicts what happens after she got home from work.
  • Wolverine Claws: Diana likes to slash at her victims with her sharp nails.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Diana does not discriminate when it comes to eliminating any and all "intruders" who dare to interfere with her relationship with Sophie.
    • Though she does seem open to the idea of letting them stay around mostly unharmed, as long as they don't try to get rid of her.

Alternative Title(s): Lights Out