Directed by Savannah Bloch Starring Alixzandra Dove Short Film Review by Andrew Young
Lights Out teases us. It is never quite clear what category the film fits into, what its aims are or what is going on. This is no bad thing. It could be a criticism that the film doesn’t know what it wants to be but that isn’t the case here. It may well be the case that director Savannah Bloch and writer Kelly Lynn Peters knew exactly what they were doing when making this impressive short.
Alixzandra Dove is excellent in the film’s only role. She plays a mother whose originally composed exterior gives way to the pent-up frustration and sadness beneath, brought on by her wailing son Joshy’s adamant refusal to turn out his light. At this point Bloch’s film works as an intense display of a woman feeling the strain of parenthood and all of life’s other struggles. Dove completely sells her emotional breakdown, appearing overwhelmed and defeated during her exasperated crying. It plays like a single scene from a wider picture, a snapshot of an emotional crisis where the cause is unknown. This is a clever tactic as it leaves us to guess at what could be going on and, because we may well have found ourselves in a similar position, we can fill in the blanks from our own experience, therefore making us more emotionally drawn to the drama.
Yet this is all made in the style of the opening to a potential fright-fest. Lars Hempel’s tinkling score is oddly creepy and establishes a clear link between the child and any malevolent force that may be lurking. DoP Cooper Ulrich also does a suitably unnerving job, his camera smoothly following Dove from room to room like a calmly floating spirit. This effect is enhanced by a light going out in one room just as it comes on in another whilst the worn-down mother moves through her home, establishing the sense that the light is following her in a potentially nefarious manner. The potential of the supernatural is clear from the atmosphere Bloch creates and she is aided by Peters dropping a playful hint into her script – “the time for light is over”. This carefully created tension underscores the film without detracting from the human drama at its centre. Again Dove is crucial to this, adding a touch of fear to her emotional expressions.
It is only in the crucial final shots that the chilling element of Lights Out comes to the fore. It could be argued this makes the film a simple trick, luring us in but producing no real substance, just a well-made scene from any horror film. Yet the fact it is only the last shot that changes the film means that it works on a different level too; until then Lights Out could simply be highlighting the aforementioned emotional turmoil. Nevertheless the ending is an entertaining pay-off-of-sorts that confirms the suspicions we had all along. But then again it might not. This could all be a sign of Dove’s fragile psyche, the persistence of the light a physical manifestation of her inability to put these feelings to bed.
These multiple possibilities make the element of mystery the third level on which Bloch’s film succeeds. It is very difficult to review a film like Lights Out without simply writing your theory of events. But this difficulty should underline how well the film has been executed. We discuss the plot because there are no obvious flaws to pick at, whilst that we can discuss so much from the film’s mere four and a half minutes is a testament to its makers’ vision.
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