What makes scary movies scary?

Producers James Wan, Eric Heisserer, Lawrence Grey and director David F. Sandberg sandwiched all of the horror genre’s tried and tested psychological tricks into Lights Out (2016), in an anxious grasping-at-straws fashion that some audiences might find jocular.

Lights Out’s narrative is no different from those of many other movies about the paranormal – a super-powerful being is tormenting a subject with no hope of the being relenting. Lights Out can’t hold a candle to Wan’s recent endeavour The Conjuring 2, which was rated as one of the scariest movies of all time, and had purportedly even killed a few fear-stricken cinemagoers. Might Lights Out kill it at the box office this weekend? Well, probably not.

1. That ‘Eeee’ Sound

Yes, that discreet unnecessary ringing that viewers of The Conjuring and Insidious series were put through, is scientifically proven to keep most folk on edge. That tension-inducing subliminal sound might go unnoticed by most filmgoers, but its pitch riles us up and conditions our brains to anticipate something bad. Although Lights Out refrained from using this continual high-pitched noise that filmmakers have brainwashed us with, tacky thuds and screams are unabashedly used on multiple occasions throughout the film.

2. Establishing Down-To-Earth Protagonists

Like any decent horror filmmaker, Lights Out’s crew endears you to the characters, who are portrayed as relatable men and women no different from you and me, before assailing them mercilessly to draw your sympathy and dismay.

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3. Tight Cropping

Any horror genre connoisseur would also vouch for how much close-up framing and stationary camera angles can intensify a viewer’s concern for what’s in the blind spot of a victim. Cutting the camera’s frame close to the back of an actor’s head, or blacking out, blurring and sometimes moving the background of an actor. Yeah, we’ve all fallen for those more than once. This effect is usually achieved by an underpaid production manager waving something while wedged in an awkward position, but can be replaced these days by CGI. Pay attention to future thriller flicks, and you might notice that wide shots like those used in say The Matrix or 500 Days Of Summer are inexistent in most scary movies.

4. Raising, Holding and Dropping Emotions

Simply put, entertainers are emotional vampires. It is imperative that the horror viewer has to be put through a gauntlet of peaks and troughs, faking-out then scaring, building tension then teasing, albeit in a less conspicuous manner. Lights Out, however, executes this in a manner as vulgar as its abuse of cheesy bumps in the night.

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5. Attacking Innate Phobias

This formulaic flick also plays on common and instinctual fears like death, disfiguration, crawling (yes, many people are afraid of things crawling on the floor) and pain. If you haven’t already guessed, Lights Out plays most on nyctophobia, the fear of the dark.

6. Mystique

You might also guess correctly mid-movie how it will end. Nope, don’t keep your hopes up for any twists. Its antagonistic entity looks similar to those persecuting the families of the last ten supernatural films I watched. Condensing all the components of a good scare but omitting all the ingredients of a good film, Lights Out has instilled a very real fear in me that the great James Wan’s career is on its decline.

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7. Casting Actors With Range

Lights Out’s extremely talented cast is its saving grace. Thriller directors cast thespians who can portray both the innocent and tortured soul, as well as change their expressions to channel possessed or aggressive characters. Gabriel Bateman stands out in this film as an incredibly gifted child star.

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Lights Out was not possessed by a strong story arc and neither did it exorcise its interchangeable Babadook/Insidious/The Conjuring/The Ring demon with a smart conclusion. One might liken its award-winning filmmakers to roller-coaster engineers in this case, rather than silver screen storytellers. Mark my words, they are likely to revert to using the aforementioned high-pitched string instrument noise in their next eerie endeavour, and that would truly warrant the playing of the world’s smallest violin.

Don’t let us stop you from judging Lights Out for yourself, but here’s a list of our Popspoken team’s favourite horror films, which you might like to catch instead:

Audition (Japan) – Yuejie
The Exorcist (US), The Cabin In The Woods (US) – Hadi Lee
A Nightmare On Elm Street (US), Silence Of The Lambs (US), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (US), The Ghosts Must Be Crazy (Singapore) – Michelle Ng
Pee Mak (Thailand), Dark Flight (Thailand), Insidious 1 & 2 (US), House Of Wax (US) – Jovi
The Shining (US) – Angela
The Ring (Japan) – Nicole
The Eye (Singapore & Hong Kong) – Cally
The Human Centipede (Netherlands) – Skii

Lights Out (2016)
Directed by David F. Sandberg

Genre: Horror
Running time: 81 minutes
Rating: 3/5 stars

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