Does it matter that Freddy Krueger was a pedophilic middle-school janitor who died in a blazing fire when parents sought revenge? No. David F. Sandberg's feature debut Lights Out, based on the internet sensation short film of the same name, features a Freddy-caliber ghoul. But, boy, I wish they hadn't spent so long explaining her origin story. But when Sandberg isn't spinning his wheels in the why, he's capable of doling out a steady diet of scares.
Mom's off her meds. Maria Bello as a distraught newly single mother chatting with a dark closet is subtle and smartly shot, shadows cast on an anguished face, while young son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) keeps a stiff upper lip at her explanation that mommy's friend "Diana" is there in the dark. Just like in Sandberg's original short, the initial premise is simple and effective: When the lights go out, a thin, angular, shadow-dwelling creature appears, her fingernails sharp enough to carve her name into every wooden surface. Lights on? She's gone.
Enter estranged half-sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who keeps her tatted boyfriend (Alexander DiPersia) at arm's length, afraid to let people in. See, Rebecca's also had her own run-in with Diana when she was Martin's age and her father mysteriously disappeared, an event that echoes the terrifying murder of Martin's own dad. So Rebecca kicks into savior mode, trying to get mom back on her meds to permanently evict Diana from the corners of their eyes. The reason you should see this in the theater has less to do with the story and more to do with sight and sound and one disturbing wordless performance from stunt actress Alicia Vela-Baily.