REVIEW: Lights Out (15) ***

Pictured: Teresa Palmer as Rebecca. PA Photo/Warner Bros.
Pictured: Teresa Palmer as Rebecca. PA Photo/Warner Bros.
(Back to camera) Garrett Hedlund as Jamie McAllan. (Front of cart) Mary J. Blige as Florence Jackson (also inset)  and Rob Morgan as Hap Jackson.

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In 2013, Swedish filmmaker David F Sandberg released a terrifying short entitled Lights Out, which sent trickles of cold sweat down the spine.

The central premise of a malevolent creature, which lurks in the shadows and can only be glimpsed when you plunge a room into darkness, tapped into that primal fear of monsters lurking in wardrobes or under the bed.

In the case of Sandberg’s delicious three-minute surge of adrenaline, the monster was real and extremely menacing.

Three years later, those 180 nerve-shredding seconds have been confidently expanded into a genuinely scary feature about the corrosive effect of mental illness on one suburban family.

Sandberg remains at the helm and in a neat touch, the star of the short film – Lotta Losten – makes a brief appearance in the diabolical pre-credits sequence that will have audiences jumping out of their seats as they nervously realise a pitch black auditorium would be the perfect hunting ground for the film’s merciless antagonist.

Pray you make it to the concessions stand alive.

Rebecca Wells (Teresa Palmer) lives alone, estranged from her stepfather Paul (Billy Burke), younger brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) and mentally unstable mother Sophie (Maria Bello), who remains on an even keel when she takes her medication.

Out of the blue, Rebecca receives a call from Martin’s school – the boy has been falling asleep in class and a social worker called Emma (Andi Osho) is concerned about his wellbeing.

It transpires that Martin has seen the silhouette of a deformed woman (Alicia Vela-Bailey) in his mother’s bedroom, which can only be kept at bay by leaving the lights on.

Rebecca reluctantly agrees to let Martin stay at her cramped apartment, in the hope she can soothe his crippling night terrors.

Instead, the big sister is confronted by a mysterious figure in the dark, which carves the name Diana into her floorboards.

Rebecca visits Sophie in the company of her adoring boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia).

Back at the scene of her painful childhood memories, Rebecca discovers a box of photographs and documents relating to Sophie’s tortured past that provides valuable clues to Diana’s identity and her reasons for terrifying the Wells family.

Lights Out is peppered with skin-crawling jolts, accompanied by discordant shrieks on the soundtrack, that crank up our sense of dread every time a character creeps around a poorly lit location or falls asleep.

Palmer is a sympathetic heroine and relative newcomer Bateman captures his little boy’s suffocating dread with aplomb.

Screenwriter Eric Heisserer’s treatment of mental illness is both heavy-handed and offensive in its conclusions.

However, his mastery of horror tropes is undeniable, gleefully condemning those of a nervous disposition to a fitful night’s sleep.

Don’t let the bed bugs bite.