How Lights Out Uses Horror to Comment on Mental Illness

by Olivia Armstrong


If mental illness were to take the form of a monster, how would you evade it? That’s the question writer-director David F. Sandberg aims to unpack in his terrifying debut feature Lights Out, based on the spooky short of the same name.

Starring Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge) as rough-around-the-edges Rebecca, the film follows her family’s chilling history with live-in entity, Diana, a half-creature, half-ghost, who is taking advantage of the battle Rebecca’s mom, Sophie (Maria Bello), is enduring against clinical depression as her vessel into the physical world. (Stay with us.) Though Sophie and her two children have managed to fight back against the disease — and Diana’s ever-looming presence — things take a turn for the dangerous once Diana feels she’s losing her grip on Sophie’s psyche. Rebecca, her boyfriend Brett (Alexander DiPersia) and little brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman) are determined to uncover Diana’s origins before it’s too late for Sophie.

Insanity, psychosis, and asylum settings are familiar horror tropes, but it’s rare the genre personifies mental illness as something to be physically feared by its victim, depicting it as something that looms in the background that can push its way into the forefront, wreaking havoc in its wake.

Lights Out challenges the notion of what it means to live with a monster, but it also delivers some terrifying scares, starting with a cold open that could prompt even the bravest horror buff to watch through slotted fingers. If you’re looking for a horror movie that doesn’t skimp on intellect, give Lights Out a try. Just make sure you leave the lights on while you watch.