LIGHTS OUT. I have become a victim of my own scant optimism. Among horror movies, the ratio of bad to good remains dishearteningly high; higher, perhaps, than in any other single genre. I was never much of a fan to begin with, save a few notable outliers. In recent years, though, as the volume of new releases I see has risen so dramatically, all kinds of horror movies have been folded in to the mix. Most have left little to the imagination and much to be desired, but a rare few have altered my thinking about the genre. Horror, done well, can reconnect us with all the things there are to love about the movies. Style notwithstanding, these movies create a visceral connection to the action taking place on screen. They tap into sub-intellectual emotional stuff, strategically applying current to the nervous system. They make us feel something in a substantive and significant way. That's really the bottom line with any art — the evocation of emotional response. Of course, humans have been making art for a minute now, and so (most of) our tastes have evolved. We tend to favor storytelling, nuance, narrative complexity, authentic characters, a sense of style, even. Movies, more than any other medium, are the product of the awkward union of art and finance, though. And because horror movies are so immediate, so addictively provocative, they will always have an audience. That audience will spend to see whatever is thrust before them, so the smart play would be to reduce the bottom line and maximize profit. This almost always means the reduction of all those elements, those products of evolution listed above. And we're left with threadbare plots, cheap tricks repeated ad nauseam and minimal production value. Lights Out is the remains.
After hours at a creepy textile factory crowded with mannequins, something seems to be lurking in the shadows. Paul (Billy Burke), working late and stretched thin by his wife's mental health, calls home and assures his young son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) that everything will be fine. Of course, that's not true, and Paul is soon the victim of the shadow monster, which then transitions back to harassing Martin at home. Due to his obvious sleep-deprivation, Martin's school eventually contacts his older half-sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who lives above a tattoo shop, likes post-punk and torments her doofus boyfriend with her intimacy issues. She returns to mom's house with little brother and finds a frighteningly familiar scenario. Her mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), is acting strangely, just like she did a decade before when Rebecca's father vanished. She's off her meds, holed up in her dark bedroom, talking to herself — or is she? Rebecca decides to intervene and things head to a weirdly protracted climax.
The germ of an idea at the center of Lights Out holds some interest: it was the subject of a short from which the feature was adapted, and that seems about right (David F. Sandberg wrote the short and directed both versions, Eric Heisserer wrote the adaptation). Even at a mere 81 minutes, the movie feels both over-long and rushed. Bello acts like she's in a different movie than everybody else, swinging for the fences with every knit of brow and forlorn stare. And the principle device, the main scare, gets played and re-played so often it becomes almost comical.
Because I've been pleasantly surprised before, I let hope get the better of me. I thought Lights Out could be another dark horse, a small movie from a secondary genre that reaffirms my love of the medium. It is not. And I guess I should be grateful that low-budget movies from new writers and directors, whatever form they take, even see the light of day. How's that for a high note? PG13. 81m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
STAR TREK BEYOND. After a pleasantly comedic opening, we find Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) at an impasse. He questions his own reasons for joining Star Fleet, the value of his contribution and the point of the mission. He's on the verge of accepting a desk job and recommending Spock (Zachary Quinto) to replace him when the Enterprise is assigned to respond to a distress call. En route, the ship is ambushed and crashes on a craggy, unforgiving planet. The crew is dispersed, some captured, some injured. Scotty (Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the screenplay) becomes the beneficiary of the mysterious, supremely capable Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). Together they re-connect with the captain, make a plan to rescue the crew, and suss out the motives of their attacker, Krall (Idris Elba).
There's too much lore and fervor around Star Trek for me to risk wading in on authenticity. It's pretty low stakes for me: The original movies were fun, I have no investment in the series (any of them) and that's about it. Justin Lin (installments 3 through 6 of the Fast and Furious series) keeps things brisk and flashy, as he is wont to do. The script holds some satisfying surprises, rich characters and funny asides. It's good fun, all in all, if occasionally too frenetic and narratively over-stuffed. PG13. 120m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
BAD MOMS. Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell star as mothers gone wild who abandon their packed workloads, party hard and face off with their straight-laced PTA counterparts. R. 101m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC. A father (Viggo Mortenson) takes his gaggle of kids from their isolated, off-the-grid home in the Northwest to their mother's funeral and their first trip to the outside world. R. 118m. BROADWAY.
ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE. Ray Romano, Dennis Leary, John Leguizamo and Queen Latifah return with the herd, this time facing a meteor crash. PG. 94m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
JASON BOURNE. Matt Damon furrows his brow again as the recovered amnesiac still trying to uncover his top secret past. With Julia Stiles and Tommy Lee Jones. PG13. 123m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
NERVE. Emma Roberts and James Franco play a couple of strangers caught up in an online game of escalating dares that turn dangerous. R. 98m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
FINDING DORY. Ellen DeGeneres voices the friendly fish with the fried short-term memory (anybody relate?) who's searching for the rest of her long lost blue tang clan. With Albert Brooks and Ed O'Neill. PG. 97m. BROADWAY.
GHOSTBUSTERS. Heavy hitters Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones suit up for the re-boot, but without enough laughs in the script to balance the special effects and action. PG13. 117m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
HILLARY'S AMERICA: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY. Fervent auteur Dinesh D'Souza comes at the party and its nominee with conspiracy theories, reenactments and unflattering lighting. PG13. 106m.
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. A family-friendly tale of rival dogs in New York City that doesn't really live up to its powerhouse cast, which includes Louis C.K., Jenny Slate and Kevin Hart. PG. 90m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill