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Dan Bernardi
[intro-text size=”25px”]In the future, entertainment reviews will be a mandated requirement for all humans, filed much like present day taxes. For expediency and maximum immersion, stories will be streamlined directly into the brain, infusing reality with finely crafted cinematic simulations- “cims”. At a classified laboratory in Cleveland, they’ve already begun testing… on me. These are my reports, code named: Total Review.[/intro-text]

– CIM #1011 – “Lights Out” – 81 mins. – release: July 22nd, 2016 –

The lab can often be a horrifying experience, even when I’m not in store for horror. The cimulator is a menacing machine rife with pokers, prodders, and pain, but regardless of the ever-standing chance of terminal brain-fry, there’s a certain degree of comfort in knowing that my fear is being induced in a relatively safe environment. Thus was the case this week, as I plugged in for the newest spooky scare-fest Lights Out, an expansion of director David F. Sandberg’s short of the same name. As the needles pierce my skull, I reflect on how ambient PG-13 horror doesn’t typically float my boat. Then it begins.

I’m sitting in on Paul, ordinary working-class guy, sharing a video call with his son Martin, a nice kid who really just misses his dad. As Paul gets back to work in the creepy warehouse, I attempt a look at my form in this cim and realize I am nothing but an intangible, transparent vapor floating freely around the room. I’m a phantom, hidden just beneath the surface in a paranormal realm. Like a voyeuristic Casper, my only abilities are invisibility and observation. Unfortunately for Paul, I am not the scariest ghost in the building. Something else lurks forth… traversing the darkness, dodging the light.

Despite being a neutral ghost, this creature of the shadows effortlessly sends pant-shitting shivers down my spine. For me, fear stems from the unknown and the uncontrollable and this demon-esque ladyfreak, who I later learn is named Diana, is a bit of both. There is no greater source of terror than darkness, where any evil can lay in wait unseen, and Diana thrives and advances in the absence of light. The best defense is a well-lit room, but even with lamps and candles in full effect, she possesses the uncanny ability to turn lights… out. It turns out that spontaneous blackouts are instant nightmare fuel.

I get a taste of Diana’s technique before haunting over to the heroine’s house. Rebecca, Martin’s sister, is having relationship issues with her needy “boyfriend” Bret. She’s a commitment-phobe and he just wants to stay the night once in a while. When Rebecca finds out that Martin is having bad dreams like she had as a kid and that their space-case mother, Sophie, is off her meds, she takes Martin back to her place until things calm down. However, I’ve seen enough paranormal activity in my day. Things never calm down. Diana starts lashing out toward Sophie’s kids, and that’s just scratching the surface.

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There’s a mystery to unravel, and I follow Rebecca as she puts the pieces together amidst her life falling apart. Eventually the imposing threat wears thin. Usually I enjoy baring witness to heinous monsters as they tear innocent folks to shreds, but in this case I root for the siblings because Diana isn’t much more than a poorly-lit violent hag with a depressingly low body count. In typical horror viewing fashion, I ache to scream for Rebecca to avoid the pitch black hallway or to find an extra flashlight for the love of God… but I’m a ghost with no voice and both the scares and I were dead on arrival.

The cim cut to black. I was unplugged but not unshrugged. Barring the exception of a few good jumps and goosebumps, I was underwhelmed by unsustainable scares. Lights Out was nearly a genuinely frightening tale with solid characters and a few twisty surprises, but when I craved more horror I was met with more suspense instead. I’m already afraid of the dark, so when the beast within is revealed, the feeling of relief in knowing what’s out there ruins the potential for greater fear. I’d recommend this one for die-hard ghost fanatics, but for others- turn the lights out at your own discretion.

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