It’s week two of horror month for me and I’m officially back to being afraid of the dark.
The Double Feature: For this movie night I decided to watch two movies that play with sight: one villain can’t always be seen, and one villain can’t see at all.
Lights Out (2016)
Basic Synopsis: A family is tormented by a shadow figure who only exists in darkness (turn the lights on and poof! She’s gone.).
Brief Thoughts: Honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect from Lights Out. The concept was definitely a creative way to explore a common phobia, but I was worried that the gimmick could become more tedious than inspiring for the filmmakers. Not only that, but how hard can it really be to stay in the light?
Turns out that’s more difficult than you might expect, cuz this shadow lady can use light switches. And blow out candles, and smash light bulbs, etc. When it comes down to it, maneuvering around the gimmick was actually the part of the movie I enjoyed best. Backstories are fun and all, but in this case the more we learned about this figure, the more questions I had. And the more questions I had, the more holes I couldn’t help but poke in the premise.
I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost (or Whatever this Shadow Lady Actually is): Maybe it’s just me, but Diana isn’t the most intimidating ghost name. It’s not quite as bad as naming a malevolent being Bob, but every time they said her name I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit.
Oh, And One More Thing: Unless I’m missing something about Diana and what she is, the character design of her shadow form is all wrong when considering her origin story. (Minor origin spoiler) Diana is the malevolent ghost of a girl who was killed pretty young, right? Yet a quick look at IMDb.com shows that they hired an adult woman to play shadow Diana, which makes no sense if she’s a ghost. Little girl Diana would become a little girl ghost. So… what is Diana? Maybe I missed something…
Is There A Dog in This Horror Film: Nope! Heavy sigh of relief on that one cuz there’s no way Diana would allow a dog to bring happiness to this home.
Quick Question: How the heck did this little boy find his sister’s apartment? I mean, I’m pretty sure he ran there. All I know is I’m the worst with directions now, and as a kid I was even worse. One time a man stopped his car by me and my friends and asked us for directions to the airport. Pretty sure I said up the street and to the left. Those directions wouldn’t even get you out of our subdivision. Side note: I’m pretty sure I was almost kidnapped as a child.
An Even Quicker Question: How many of you have ever had a light switch outside your closet? I thought this was just a set design choice for this movie, why, I don’t know. But apparently I’m just a weirdo for assuming all closet lights required you to reach into the closet to turn them on.
More Relevant Question: If Diana prefers Sophie in a mentally drained state, why would she allow Sophie to keep her medication on her night stand? Or in the house at all, for that matter. Wouldn’t she flush them down the toilet? Or was she playing the long game? Maybe every time Sophie would pick up the pills Diana would smack them out of her hands. This is way more degrading than simply getting rid of them.
Let’s Talk About That Ending (Spoilers): Honestly I feel dumb for not seeing this ending coming. I’m pretty sure Maria Bello’s character even threatened Diana with the possibility of doing something this drastic to keep her from harming her children earlier in the movie. Yet when Sophie shoots herself to kill Diana my jaw dropped a bit. (Side note: Lights Out gets a round of applause for the arc of Maria Bello’s character. Maybe it is unfair to see her as a villain early on, but it’s hard not to when she seemingly welcomes Diana into her home, endangering her son. Maybe that’s why in addition to the surprise of it, the ending is so satisfying because we get to see this emotionally and physically abused woman finally stand up for not only her family, but herself.)
I guess when it comes down to it I’m used to horror films like this defeating the tormentors in a much more triumphant way, so I always assumed that the kids would kill Diana with light. It’s the obvious choice, so good on the movie for not choosing it.
But Wait a Minute (Spoilers): Even with the satisfying ending to this horror film, my mind refuses to accept it because the rules of this world conflict. Why would a ghost disappear if the person they tormented got healthier? Or died? It’s not like Sophie was in the room with her when Diana died, so the trauma of that moment wouldn’t have fused them together. So as far as I’m concerned, ghost Diana chose to stay with Sophie because she’s the friend she loves to torture the most.
The way I see it, a happy and healthy Sophie would not make a ghost disappear. So she has to be something else. And the only thing that makes sense is Diana is a manifestation of Sophie’s depression and guilt. The loss of her only friend, evil or not, was too much for little Sophie’s mind and she had a psychotic break. And somehow the friend she imagined to still be around became real. Do I really believe this is the story the movie is presenting? No. I’ve seen weirder in movies before, but in all honesty I think the simplest answer is the correct one here. Shadow Diana really is just ghost Diana, and for whatever reason their existences are linked. And I don’t like it.
You know, maybe I’ll take back what I said about being happy they didn’t go for the obvious ending. Had they just killed her with light I wouldn’t have these questions…
Final Thoughts: Light’s Out is better than I expected it to be, but my inability to see past the basic question of “what is Diana?” makes it hard for me to completely enjoy the movie for it’s fun concept on one of my biggest childhood (and, let’s face it, often adulthood) fears.
Don’t Breathe (2016)
Basic Synopsis: What was thought to be an easy job quickly turns into a nightmare as three thieves come to the harsh realization that the blind man they’ve targeted will not be a victim. Or as he might say: “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in there with me.”
Brief Thoughts: Though Don’t Breathe has been recommended to me for a while now, I kept putting off watching it because I wasn’t sure why I would pull for a group of criminals taking advantage of a man’s physical disability. A group of criminals who chose to steal from this man because he recently received a rather large settlement following the wrongful death of his daughter. These kids are monsters.
Even so, at a certain point in the movie the danger switches to a point where even if you’re not cheering for the thieves to steal from this guy, you at least feel that they should be allowed to survive this encounter. Castle Doctrine or no. This guy is scary. And then he gets really scary. There’s a reason I quoted Watchmen’s Rorschach in the synopsis: things get taken much further in the story I assumed would be a simple make-it-out-alive plot. Maybe a little too far.
Is There a Dog in this Horror Film? (minor spoilers): Yes. Seeing as he’s on team bad guy he isn’t in as much danger as the thieves. I mean, he still isn’t treated that well, but things could’ve gone much worse for him than just a punch to the face. (Though it isn’t seen, the assumption is he survives.)
Let’s Talk About That Twist (Spoilers): As I mentioned above, the film definitely makes the audience turn on the homeowner in this one, to such an extent that there is no grey area about it. This man is an irredeemable monster. Kidnapping a girl and holding her hostage because she wronged you is bad enough, but then the movie takes it too far by adding a story of rape. Yes, it’s horrific, but I was already horrified by the depravity already revealed. This extra step to disturb was unnecessary.
Let’s Talk About That Ending (Spoilers): I am beyond relieved that Don’t Breathe has a happy ending for at least one of the victims, but my moral compass leaves me disappointed in what she chooses to do with her happy ending. Rocky took the money, and the homeowner gets away with what he did. Kidnapping, rape, murder… A family will never know what happened to their daughter, a father will now always believe the worst about his son (yes, Alex was a criminal, but he’s also the closest thing to a hero we have in this movie), and this monster is free to try and replace his daughter again.
The only reason I am ok with this ending is that Rocky needed to get her sister away from the home she was being raised in, but that doesn’t mean I’m still not upset with her for being the same person at the end of the movie as she was in the beginning. I wanted her to be better.
Final Thoughts: Other than my slight disappointment in the ending and an unnecessary choice made by the filmmakers, Don’t Breathe is a great horror film that expands the confines of its premise and rather contained location so that they never feel like a hinderance to possibilities.
The Double Feature Verdict: Both Lights Out and Don’t Breathe are solid horror films. And the majority of the problems I have with them are probably non-issues to most. Unfortunately I can’t help but nitpick.