We all saw it: that absolutely brilliant 2-odd minute short horror film that was terrifying in its simplicity. The Lights out short was a marvel, a true, horrifying standout that made you squirm in record time. The film drew on the common phobia of fear of darkness which works well for the horror medium itself, in that horror movies often pit what we can see and what we cannot see against each other in order to entice suspense and fear into the viewers.
But what happens when you give a short film director a big budget? The same exact thing that happened a few years ago with Mama (2013, Andres Muschietti). This was also a powerful short horror film, that was incredibly effective in its medium, but rather was most effective in what was left unexplained and not explicitly stated.
When drawn out to fit the 90-minute format, however, both films fall flat and lifeless. Stretching a 2-minute film out to 45x its size leaves us with holes and weak spots: poor writing, bad acting, questionable twists, inexplicable turns and abrupt endings and conclusions. For a film with a powerful fear behind it (fear of the dark) I expected a lot more from the premise… instead we are subject to a drawn out affair that is predictable and annoying in its delivery.
Into the nitty-gritty: the criminally negligent mother, played my Maria Bello, basically sleep-walks through the film, in what may be one of the worst roles I’ve ever seen her in. The semi-emo, pseudo-alternative daughter played by Teresa Palmer seemed to take a page from Christian Bale in Batman, but forgot that raspy voice is not actually acting.
Again, I cannot help drawing a parallel to Mama, because Jessica Chastan’s character in that was basically one and the same: Angsty alt-female thrown in to motherhood role. There are other rudimentary parallels: the poorly developed yet hastily introduced plot; the “ease” at which the mystery is unraveled as there is never really any great mystery, instead clues are clumsily tossed into the plot; Same goes for the summation of the story, which is recklessly and haphazardly slapped together, often leaving the audience with more questions than answers.
All of this being said, I’m not mad at the directors of either of these films (David Sandberg for Lights Out and Andres Muchietti for Mama). For what could be blamed as “selling out” I see as “taking a chance at a huge opportunity”. What new director wouldn’t take a chance on their film if Hollywood producers were willing to throw money at it? It’s not as if every director can pass up monetary opportunities for artistic integrity, which is a disappointing, but ultimate reality. In these circumstances, I blame producers investing to make a quick return, rather than investing in quality. Because, again, the concept centering around the fear of the dark is one rife with opportunity, and could have been potentially as memorable as the source material it came from. Instead, the movies comes across as hastily and slapped together as it no doubt was made.
But I guess I’ll just have to wait for the cyclical nature of the film industry to come aorund: perhaps someone will do a remake of the feature-length short film, and perhaps then, they will do it right.