“The Abstergo Man” by CreepsMcPasta: A Companion Piece to My “Lights Out” Review

The Abstergo Man

Written by CreepsMcPasta

 

I’m [typing] this more for me than anything else. Just…a place where I can document the details and try to see if there’s a missing link or something I may have missed.

It started about two months ago in the middle of a bleak winter. I was on my way home from the late shift at the local supermarket. I made my way down the side roads that led to my house, the vapors in my cold breath catching my attention every so often. I was nearing the last few turns when I saw a figure. He stood at a point between the streets where there weren’t any streetlights around. The only thing illuminating this section was the night’s moon and stars. I couldn’t make out any detail or anything noticeable other than that he was facing my direction and completely motionless. At the time I probably thought it wasn’t even a living thing, just some shades and shapes that happened to make out the silhouette of a person, which can happen in the misty dew of winter like this one. Even if it was a person, they were probably standing around, waiting for the bus or something remedial like that. Anyway, as you can tell, I didn’t think much of it at all, and carried on home.

The next day, I had another late shift at work, so I started my walk down the usual route in the late afternoon, the setting sun flaring just over the horizon past the thick blanket of clouds that covered the sky, the familiar old town streets blurring in my mind as any sight would that has been seen one too many times. I barely had any thought of the previous night’s experience, as nothing from that incident stood out to be anything of interest, and as I passed where I saw the person, I only just had a thought to check over the area to see if the person was here again or if there was any sign that it was even here at all. I didn’t look long, but nothing noticeable stood out, so I carried on to work where I’d be working until the late evening again.

After my shift ended, I made my way home with some simple shopping in hand. As usual, it was dire cold, so I made my pace brisk with the intention of making it home as soon as possible to settle down with a hot drink and sleep my tiring night away. I came across the same unlit section of road where I saw the shape before, not expecting anything to be out of the ordinary until I saw him again, except this time he was a little bit closer. I stared at him, not sure what I was hoping would happen. What unsettled me was the fact that he wasn’t just standing still, but pretty much almost unmoving. There wasn’t any sense of him breathing. He was static. Usually, when you see a dark figure, the last thing you want is for it to come toward you, let alone move, but I guess I was hoping it would move even just an inch in a human way, to be sure that what I was looking at was okay or even alive. It unsettled me too much to approach him, so I just briskly walked along the other side of the road home to avoid any confrontation.

The next day or two, things were pretty mellow. My shifts were during the day and my walk home was also during the day, which is what I was supposed to be contracted for at work. And during this brief period, I never saw any sign of the person, so I put the incident behind me once again and moved on. But as my luck would dictate, I was called in on more evening shifts. In the shop, things were always busier in the evening, as this was more and more becoming people’s preferred time for shopping. Also, due to economic reasons, a lot of the temporary staff had been let go recently, meaning they needed the remaining team to work on varied times.

After a particularly stressful evening shift, I made my usual walk home in a groggy manner. I was nearing the end of the journey when I crossed into the dark part of the road and saw him again. He wasn’t just off to the side anymore, but noticeably closer, and worst of all, standing in the middle of the road. This posed a problem for me, because that meant I would have to get within a few feet of this weirdo to get past him, and I couldn’t handle that thought. So I backtracked and went through and alternate, more well-lit route. It added about ten minutes to the journey, but It made me feel a lot safer, and it also meant I got to avoid the stranger. It was worth every extra second.

To avoid hassle, I used that route every evening shift from then on. It meant I would avoid the person and get some extra exercise, which I felt I needed anyway, so it wasn’t that much of a bother. It wasn’t until a few days later, when I was finally beginning to think that I wouldn’t see the person ever again, that the turning point happened.

I came home, late as usual due to the longer route home. I placed my bags in the kitchen and settled down. I didn’t feel like doing anything, so I immediately started getting ready to go to bed to sleep the tiredness right out of me. I changed out of my work clothes, brushed my teeth, and went around the house, turning off the lights. When I got to the last one in the dining room before I would head upstairs to bed, I flicked it off and as I turned around, I caught a glimpse of a figure down the end of my garden. It was very dark outside, but my garden is considerably small, so I knew the layout very well, and I definitely knew I saw something there that did not belong. My hand was still on the switch, so I instinctively turned it back on. Nothing. I stared for what seemed like a long time. In reality it was only minutes, but to me, it felt like hour due to the tension in the air. After I was satisfied, theorizing that he must have ran at the sight of me turning the light back on, I turned the light off again. He was there, this time closer. What was I to do? Someone [reading] will probably shout, “Call the police!” but really, what are they going to do? Arrest him for creeping me out? I’m pretty sure that’s not a crime, and technically there is a section in my garden that’s classed as a public path, so he’s by definition not trespassing. So I did what I could do. I made sure the back door and the front door were locked. I even barricaded my bedroom door just in case he tried to get in. Sleep didn’t meet me at all that night.

The day after was my day off, so took full advantage of this by sleeping through the whole day. I was exhausted, and who wouldn’t be? When I woke up, I didn’t have much daylight at all in order to do chores, and most places were either closed or just about to, so I stayed in and did the usual thing most people do at night: watched movies, played games, and generally browsed the Internet. After a while of this, I wanted something to cheer me up, so I went on Netflix and started watching random family sitcoms. Very instant humor and good, wholesome values were just what I needed at a stressful point like this. Halfway through the first series of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, I was thirsty and a bit hungry, so I went downstairs for a snack. I pulled out a can of Pepsi in the fridge and some old popcorn that I never got around to eating from my cupboard, and as I was about to ascend my stairs, I turned off the light. Curious after last night’s events, I humored myself. I walked up to the window facing the garden and peeked outside. There he was, just standing there, motionless as always. I couldn’t believe it. I was more dumbfounded than anything, simply confused as to why this person was stalking me. I rushed back to the light switch, turned it back on, and jolted back to the window in hopes of seeing who this person was, whether it was someone I know playing a prank or a well-known serial killer. It didn’t bother me at this point. I just wanted to know, but even while I was dashing toward the window, not too far away from the light switch, he was gone. I didn’t know how to feel, because what was always happening was not adding up. It wasn’t until I turned the light off in frustration that I made my first startling discovery: it was the lights. It was again there, and closer, only a few feet away from my window. Out of sheer fear, I turned the light back on and proceeded around the house, reaching my hand around dark corners and turning on the lights. I made sure never to turn them off from then on. And after that, things were fine. For a while.

The following week, I made sure only to travel along well-lit roads and never cross into any places of darkness. Doing this, I managed to revert partially back to normal life. My eating started to become more regular, and I was managing to actually sleep at night. Everything was incident-free until one evening, after another lazy day of Netflix and junk food, I went downstairs to refresh my soda supply in the kitchen. To keep out the cold from the kitchen to the rest of the house, I closed the door. I opened my fridge, grabbed a few cans, and just as I closed the fridge, the kitchen lightbulb blew. My head turned to the bulb by instinct, but looking at it, I knew what this meant. My attention was then immediately taken to the other end of the kitchen. There he was, only a few feet away. It was no longer lurking outside my house, but he appeared inside. I could actually see details now. He stood there, rigid as ever. His face bore the contours of age on his skin. His clothes were no different, being measly black rags tattered around his body. In the dark, I couldn’t see his eyes, but I knew they were focused purely on me. I noticed only one of his arms was down at his side. The other hand’s index finger was pushed against his lips like when one is trying to shush someone. Other than being able to see him more clearly, now that there weren’t any walls or windows between us, I could now hear him. Heavy breathing with deep grunts, like an animal excited for the kill. All this information sank in between the time that it took me to panic and open the fridge door for the meat bulb to barely illuminate the kitchen. The cold air from the freshly opened fridge brushed my face as I turned back to see him no longer there.

It took one more similar incident like this for me to go full-blown paranoid. I was walking through the dining room to the kitchen when the bulb went. This completely took away my trust of all my rooms except my bedroom. This time, he appeared so close I could feel his breath roll off my skin. The smell was so putrid when it hit my senses that it didn’t take me long to flinch backwards and throw up. I turned around and scattered toward the door, reaching in a panic and almost pulling the thing off its hinges to get it open. The luminescence from the other room soon filled most of the dining room, and with it, the apparition left.

I’ve done some research in the back end of the internet describing what’s been happening, as hypothetical situations, of course, and the only similarly related lore is the one of the Abstergo, or the Abstergo Man. A myth of a fallen angel that was condemned by the gods to wander the earth in search of the perfect person. If the person he chooses was perfect, then he would be free and allowed back into paradise. It seems he didn’t get a good deal, as to find a perfect person is not an easy task I can imagine. It is unknown what he does to anyone who doesn’t fit this criteria, but I have a feeling I might find out, as the last time he appeared was within breathing distance.

I’m currently in my room with the lights on, and as a precaution, a dozen lamps scattered around the place, all turned on. The TV is also on, and muted purely for the screenlight, and my computer monitor as well. It’s hot as hell in here, but it’s a small price to pay for the security it offers. The door is barricaded so nothing can get in and out of here. The only exception that I leave is around midday, when the sun is at its brightest to resupply food and water. I haven’t been to work in days, either, and I’ve ignored all calls coming through and people knocking on my door. What is there to tell? No one will believe me, and even if they did, they can’t help me. All I can do for now is survive while I research more into this legend. There are a lot of smart kids out there who know a lot about the old days. I’ve even found a subsection of a small forum dedicated to the Abstergo Man and have some pretty interesting context from there. I’ve sent some emails to them, and I’m awaiting reply, so until then, all I have to do is survi-

Review 86: Lights Out (1.5/5)

 

Lights Out 2016 poster.jpg

Lights Out

Directed by David F. Sandberg

Starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Maria Bello, Alicia Vela-Bailey

Released on July 22, 2016

Running time: 1h 21m

Rated PG-13

Genre: Horror

 

By the time 2013 had gotten underway, the Internet had already been inundated with an inordinate amount of various amateur scary stories and urban legends, such as Slender Man and Jeff the Killer and Smile Dog. Aspiring writers published their assorted works all over the Internet. Most of these were compiled onto the Creepypasta site, where many aspiring writers publish their short horror stories to this day. They still span the entire spectrum from inept to laudable.

On October 31st, 2013, YouTuber CreepsMcPasta posted a video of him reading a creepypasta that he wrote himself called “The Abstergo Man”. It was about a guy dealing with being stalked by a malevolent, scary-looking spirit that is only seen in the dark and disappears when the lights come on. It’s a brilliant idea that was decently creepy in its execution, and though his storywriting is clearly amateur, CreepsMcPasta did pretty damn good for only being a YouTuber who posts videos of himself reading creepypastas.

Then, on December 30th, 2013, David Sandberg premiered a two-and-a-half-minute short film that he and his wife created called Lights Out at the “Who’s There?” short horror film competition. Though the short film was indeed pretty scary for only two and a half minutes, it hit nearly every note that “The Abstergo Man” did. It felt almost like a carbon copy, save for its incredibly short length and switching the genders of both main character and spirit. I’m not accusing Sandberg of plagiarism, because not only was Lights Out released just barely shy of two months after “The Abstergo Man”, but if he did copy “The Abstergo Man”, Lights Out is arguably different enough to fall under fair use. Plus, I’m not sure if David Sandberg even knew who CreepsMcPasta was while he was over in Sweden.

Though CreepsMcPasta at least had a story to tell, it was Sandberg who received offer after offer to make his short into a full-length film. And after much deliberation, the movie got made about two and a half years after the short premiered.

When I saw the trailers for it, I was very disappointed and put off, as according to the trailer, not only did it give away practically every single detail about the plot except how the movie ended, but the movie would be Jumpscare Central.

Then I finally had the opportunity to see it. And when I did so, I discovered, to my utter surprise…that I was absolutely right. On both counts.

Our story begins in some sort of factory in which we see a ton of mannequins standing around and clothes on hangers. Some of the mannequins are in various states of dress. I wish we could have seen some extreme mannequin manipulation action, but I didn’t find it here. Anyway, a dad is calling his son Martin (Bateman). They exchange a few words about the mother’s deteriorating mental state. She’s been “talking to herself”. The dad promises that he’ll be home soon and will get his mother better. You can tell from this conversation this dad is a goner. He’ll be dead in a few minutes. The two say goodbye. Dad’s employee Esther (Lotta Losten, David Sandberg’s wife and star of their short film. She’s even wearing the same shirt she did in the short! And her part in the film is even smaller than her part in the short) tells Dad that she’s clocking out, and starts locking up. She’s in the process of finishing up a bit of inventory when the lights go out. She waves her arms around, the motion sensor picks it up, and the lights turn back on. But a rack of clothes is shaking like someone just shuffled through it. Odd. She goes into the back room and turns off the light. And just like in the short film, a ghost (Vela-Bailey) appears. She’s been changed around. Rather than being naked, she’s simply just a silhouette. And like in the short film, Esther’s curiosity causes her to experiment with the light five times. On the fifth, the ghost appears right in front of her. This moment in the short was accompanied by a quiet jump, but in the movie, eff that! Jumpscare! Esther turns the light back on, and the obvious nod to the short film stops. The movie’s only eighty minutes; gotta introduce us to the ghost’s mechanics somehow. Esther goes back into Dad’s office, interrupting him in the middle of a phone call. Esther tells him that there’s something weird in the back room, but he dismisses it, telling her to go on home. Esther does so, and we never see her again. I’m amazed she gets out of the building unscathed. I presume the rest of the short film plays out back at her place. The dad ends his call and decides to head home. He walks through his factory, keys in hand, before he hears a clattering in the distance. Don’t go and investigate. He turns two corners and sees the shadow person just beyond two lights away from him. Thinking it’s Esther, he calls her name. But with a crackling sound, the ghost stands up. She’s a living shadow monster with wild hair, long, sinewy limbs, a spidery gait, and an almost feral, animalistic physicality. She could have been really freaking creepy had she been properly handled by the story she inhabits. Unfortunately, she’s not. Also, I love how these lights in the building only illuminate a perfect circle and that everything outside these circles are in total darkness. Lights don’t work that way. The lights flick off, Dad waves his arms around, the sensor picks it up, and the lights turn back on. And the ghost is one light closer! He turns around and is startled. The camera cuts to his face and then back to the corridor to show that the ghost has disappeared! Unnerved, the dad runs off, but trips. He stands up and looks at his leg, which has been badly cut. He looks up and sees that the ghost is only one light away. The dad quickly gets the point. The ghost can’t come any farther because of the light. But why can’t the ghost just walk around it? The dad makes a run for his office, makes it, shuts the door, turns on the lights, and grabs a baseball bat that he just so happened to have on a shelf. By the way, on the shelf below it, there’s a little doll of the ghost from the short film. The lights in the factory go out, and a few seconds later, so do the ones in Dad’s office. Dang it. And the movie actually does the next jumpscare pretty well. The doorknob slightly rattles, unlocks, and opens. A few seconds of silence later, the ghost blindsides him from behind and drags him into the darkness. Out in the factory, he plops onto the floor, having been brutally mauled to death. This warrants the film’s PG-13 rating. Nothing else does, by the way. And then, title sequence.

That was the first five minutes. And to be honest, the first five minutes of this film are easily the best and scariest part of the movie. I’m not gonna lie, it was actually pretty creepy. The director did a pretty good job of building some solid tension with a legitimate sense of unease. If only the rest of the movie was this well done and actually scary. Also, another problem – it felt like it was just another iteration of the short film.

Cut to a couple in a crappy apartment on a bed after sex. This is Becca (Palmer) (oh my gosh, that’s why she was so familiar! She was Six from I Am Number Four!) and Bret (DiPersia).  Becca is our main character: she listens to trashy, hard metal music, has a bunch of scary posters all over her apartment, and has nonmarital sex with someone she doesn’t even consider a boyfriend yet. Hey, they’re two consenting adults; I’m not going to stop them. Becca takes a shower. Question: do girls always put their towels on before exiting the shower, or did this just happen so the director could avoid redoing the shot to avoid nudity? I’m not sure he would mind showing Teresa Palmer’s boobs (I wouldn’t mind him doing so), but it would have gotten the movie an R rating. Yes, shoehorn all sorts of violence into a movie and it’ll get a PG-13, but show a boobie and it’ll get rated R. Becca gently kicks Bret out of her apartment. The two clearly have something going on between them.

After a decent transition shot over two individual copies of a photo of Becca and Martin, the next scene shows Martin in bed, hearing a muffled conversation that his mother Sophie (Bello, the best actor in the movie) seems to be having with herself. And the movie clearly tells us that this is a scare sequence. Two in the first fifteen minutes? After checking on his mother, who kindly tells him to go to bed, he exits his mom’s room and heads back to his own. He turns around to see his mother in the dark doorway. A shadowy hand and part of a head peek into the doorway, scaring the bejabbers out of Martin, who flees to his room and closes the door. The lights outside his room flick off, the floorboards creak, scratching against wood is heard, and something grabs the of-course-old-fashioned doorknob and rattles it. The door bangs lightly twice. The bedside lamp flickers. So his mother was talking to the ghost? And what does this mean? Gabriel Bateman as Martin is an okay child actor, but he cannot for the life of me convince me that he’s actually scared.

The next day, Martin is at some elementary school (at least he actually looks young enough). He’s fallen asleep in class for the third time this week. After a failed attempt to call Sophie, Martin suggests calling Becca, who is his older sister. After an awkward exchange between Becca and a CPS agent in which we forcedly learn that the dad from the beginning was Martin’s father and Becca’s stepfather, that Becca’s real father ran off when she was ten, that Becca does not live with Sophie and Martin and left on bad terms with Sophie, that Sophie is on antidepressants, and that Martin fell asleep in homeroom for the third time this week, Becca and Bret take Martin to his and Sophie’s house.

At Sophie’s house, Becca tells Bret to stay in the car. Aww, would Mommy not approve of your boyfriend? Do you even care about her opinion?  Martin clearly wants to stay at Becca’s place, but Becca tries to dissuade him by saying that she has scary posters on the walls. Martin says that he just needs sleep. Becca says they’ll talk about it. As Becca and Martin walk to the front door, Martin mentions someone named Diana. This is the name of the ghost. Oooh, how threatening. This clearly strikes a chord with Becca, who tells Martin that she had the same experience as him after her dad left. She assures him that Diana is not real. Sophie opens the door and invites them in. Martin goes straight upstairs and packs a bag, and Becca converses with Sophie, who admits her refusal to see a therapist or take her meds. I love how neither Becca nor Martin never even mention that Sophie forgot to pick Martin up. Upstairs, another scary sequence happens. After Martin packs a bag, he hears Sophie’s bedroom door open on its own. He investigates only to see a dark figure, Diana, slam the door. Wait, wasn’t the sun shining in that room despite the closed curtains? Three scary scenes in twenty minutes. Wow. Downstairs, Becca plays the “bad mother” card. Sophie tries to counter by saying that it’s hard to raise him without a father and that Becca turned out bad. Becca decides to have Martin stay with her, but he’s already packed his bag. Much to the protest of a distraught Sophie, they go to Becca’s place. What did you expect, Mommy? Your business with Diana has been making you neglect your kid. How dare Becca have the gall to remove her little brother from a clearly unhealthy environment.

Martin settles in quickly. It was about now that I thought, How does a borderline pubescent Martin deal with having a sister with as much sex appeal as she does? Out in another room, Bret tries to call Becca out on alleged BS by asking if Becca’s housing Martin to help him or hurt Sophie. Both, of course. Bret, I thought you were trying to get the approval of this chick. Why are you asking such a crapheaded question? And I know I’m supposed to be paying attention to this conversation, but I can’t help but notice the Avenged Sevenfold poster on the wall. Bret leaves of his own accord.

Becca makes Martin some food and combs his hair. Well, motherly tendencies are a part of female instinct. Martin wonders if his mother’s craziness is hereditary. It’s not, unless it’s some form of mental illness. At least the dynamic between Becca and Martin is a little cute. Unfortunately, with the movie being only seventy-seven minutes long sans credits, it’s too short to build on this bond between these two.

So apparently Becca’s apartment is over a tattoo parlor. Ooookay. I have no idea how she sleeps every night with the sign flashing nonstop into her room. Becca awakes to a scratching noise that stops whenever the sign flashes into the room. Obviously it’s Diana. Becca reaches over to the bedside lamp, but the lightbulb is burned out. Becca sees Diana disappear when the sign flashes. Becca, slow to catch on, slowly gets out of bed to investigate. But Diana notices her. And in the next flash that lasts a second longer than it should, Becca takes the entire duration to realize the situation. The flash stops and Diana is standing up. She lunges for Becca, but the sign flashes again, this time for eight and a half seconds. I counted; the sign normally flashes for only three. Becca lunges for the light switch, and makes it just barely as the flash stops. Good freaking timing. Becca goes into the bathroom, but hears a noise from in the bathtub. She slowly moves over to it, and – you can see the flashlight through the shower curtain. It’s clearly not Diana. Becca opens the shower curtain to see Martin sleeping in it with a turned-on flashlight. How does he sleep with the flashlight turned on?

The next morning, Becca is visited by the CPS agent. And the agent is pissed. She’s all like, “How dare you take your brother from his unhealthy home environment and house him in yours where he’s at least a little safer!” Well, Becca’s his sister! What right do you have to do this? She’s clearly not trying to become his legal guardian! Becca was planning to house Martin for only a few days! Plus, if Sophie is clearly crazy, then as Martin’s sister, Becca is obligated to remove Martin from Sophie’s custody! At least get him out of the house; you can transfer custody when you can! “But she was lucid when I stopped by!” This CPS agent has a point, though it’s not a strong one. Though Sophie is crazy, Becca, according to how her apartment looks, isn’t exactly providing a healthy environment, either. A pair of panties on the rug. Scary posters on the wall. A bong on the couchside cupboard. Oh, noooo, spoopy poasturz and drugz! I also am not sure how good of a guardian for him she would be. Is she employed? Does she make enough to support herself, let alone herself and her brother? And then the CPS agent takes him to school. Isn’t he forgetting yesterday’s clothes? Also, this counselor isn’t even in the rest of the movie. She’s gone off to wherever Esther ran off to. Becca then does some obviously-needed cleaning. And then she notices the scratchings on the wood floor from last night. She didn’t already check those last night? Obviously, it’s going to read “Diana”. She lifts up the rug to see “Diana” and a stick figure carved into the floor. Told you so.

Becca then has a flashback to some arbitrary night when she was a child. She looks a little old to be drawing crappy pictures of her family. Seriously, she’s, like, eight or nine. Grow up. Child Becca’s hair is too light a shade of blonde. Child Becca hears a scratching noise from her closet and looks in that direction. She looks back at her desk to see that her sketchbook is no longer there. She stole my picture! Wait, how was Diana able to take the sketchbook? It was in a lit room! Child Becca looks back at the closet to hear drawing sounds from it. She goes over to it and hits the light switch. How convenient that the light switch was on the bedroom side of the door. The sketchbook drops to the ground out of thin air. She picks up the sketchbook to find the word “Diana” and a stick figure drawn on her picture. Oh, and her dad is blacked out. She ruined my picture! Flash back forward to the present. Literally the only reason that this flashback was there was to show why the name Diana scares Becca. Wow.

For those of you keeping score at home, there have been six scary sequences in thirty minutes. Wow.

One of the best or worst things a scary movie can do is give its evil entity a name. Names hold power. One thing a good scary movie can do is refuse to let you give its villain a name. The idea that you cannot put a name to a terrifying entity only adds to just how unsettling a movie can be. You wouldn’t have known that the name of the demon from The Exorcist was Pazuzu unless you had read the book or had done your research. That’s a big part of what made Pazuzu so scary: his name was either never or rarely mentioned. You didn’t know whether this was just any ordinary demon or the Devil himself. It added an extra level of discomfort. For a more modern example: we still don’t know the names of the red-faced demon or the tall man with the long black hair from Insidious. Because we had no idea who they were, it made them more mysterious as characters. It made them as well as the rest of the ghosts from the Further that much more interesting and frightening. But giving your evil entity a name can work well, too. Bagul/Bughuul (I’ve seen it spelled both ways) from Sinister could have been nameless, letting the mystery surrounding the character add to just how terrifying he was, but learning his name and who he was added an extra level of mysticism to the character, and caused him to become that much more evil.

Becca has Bret drive her to Sophie’s house to find out about Diana. Yes; who is Diana? Becca apologizes for her BS yesterday. Bret initially doesn’t buy it, but a kiss convinces him to drop the whole thing. Wow.

Sophie isn’t home, so they bust in thanks to a convenient key rock. Bret stands guard while Becca searches upstairs. She goes into her stepdad’s study, which is right next to Sophie’s bedroom. In the study, she conveniently finds a picture of Sophie and Diana as young teenagers. Diana conveniently has her black hair obscuring her face like Sadako/Samara from Ringu / The Ring or Kayako from Ju-on. She even finds a litany of medical files about Diana and even tape recordings of her apparent death, all just sitting in this study. How convenient. From what we can discern, Diana had a skin disease that made her extremely sensitive to light. She was a patient at a mental hospital. She was also particularly aggressive toward others and possessive of Sophie, who was a fellow patient there. She was accidentally somehow completely incinerated in an attempted heliotherapy session. Anyway, Becca hears noises down the hall and goes to investigate. Meanwhile, downstairs, Bret is still standing guard. He decides to open a curtain to let in some light, and the camera shows us that Diana is behind him. What, is she going to kill him now? Actually, no. Becca investigates her childhood bedroom and finds the drawing from the flashback. Predictably, the door closes behind her and locks, trapping Becca in the darkness. Though the room is clearly a little bit lit by the light coming through the curtains, Diana appears, telling Becca to stay away. Contradicting herself, Diana tries hanging Becca by her necklace, which somehow doesn’t break, and somehow Becca is still able to scream. BS. I’ve explained why in earlier reviews. Bret bursts in and Diana disappears. Bret tells Becca that Sophie is here and that they need to go. They grab the box of files and go, somehow not getting noticed by Sophie or Martin, who have arrived home.

Sophie apologizes to Martin for being distant, and asks him if they want to have a movie night together. Martin gladly acquiesces. Sophie says that some personal time is good, for all three of them. Wait, what? Also, is it a Friday or Saturday night? A movie night on a school night is not wise. Also, Martin is carrying a bag of sriracha potato chips. I had no idea they came in that flavor. The two get busy watching Auntie Mame. They have a brief disjointed exchange in which Sophie expresses that she misses Martin’s dad and is pissed that Becca left, Martin says that the best thing to do is face your fears, and I find myself not believing that these two are actually mother and son. This gives Sophie an idea: to introduce Martin to Diana. It doesn’t go well, as when Diana rears over Martin, he runs over to the lamp only to find that there is no bulb. When Diana lunges for Martin, Sophie tries to stop her, trying to convince Martin and Diana that the other doesn’t know any better, but Diana swats her aside. Diana goes for Martin, but he gets to a light switch in time and switches the lights on. Diana disappears. Wait, how did she appear in the first place? Those curtains are clearly only translucent, as there is still light coming through them. Having had the bejabbers scared out of him, Martin runs off. In fact, he runs all the way to Becca’s apartment.

You know, if Sophie has had The Diana Problem for years, why has she not been conditioning both Diana and Martin to at least tolerate the other’s presence, with emphasis on Diana? If she had been doing that and Diana been caused to mellow out, Martin and Diana could have tolerated each other’s presence, and eventually been willing to form a happy family. In fact, I kind of wish that that could have happened.

We’re past the forty minute mark. We’re halfway through the movie. And there have been eight scare sequences.

Becca and Bret discuss the situation, but right when Becca’s about to explain who Diana is, omigod there’s a bang at the door! (sorry, Adum) And the movie’s acting like this is a scare sequence. Seriously. It’s gonna be Martin. It’s gonna be Martin. Yup. I told you so. Nice fakeout. Becca sends Bret shopping. Becca and Martin talk, acknowledging that they know Diana is real. Becca shows Martin the files on Diana. It turns out that Becca’s stepdad / Martin’s dad was doing a ton of research on Diana. SO THEN WHY WAS HE SO OBLIVIOUS IN THE OPENING SCENE?

Becca launches into an explanation sequence that isn’t quite as bad as the prologue to Darkness Falls, but it’s still close. Diana was found locked in a basement at the age of thirteen. Her father had killed himself. She had a skin disease that made her extremely sensitive to light, except that she could be out in the sunlight with just an umbrella. Make up your damn mind. People said she was evil and that she could get inside people’s heads and drive them insane. She became a patient at a mental hospital, where she met and befriended Sophie. Becca thinks that Diana screwed with Sophie’s head and made her think Diana was her friend. So that’s why she can’t tolerate Martin or Becca? That’s a really weak reason. How do we know that Sophie and Diana aren’t actually friends? Diana comes around when Sophie is at her worst. If Diana could get inside people’s heads and change them, then why did she only do it to Sophie? Surely she should have done the same with other people. Maybe that’s why they’re making a sequel. The doctors at the mental hospital tried an experiment on her; they exposed her to a crap ton of incredibly bright light. Because that’s smrt. The sequence is even filmed as if the doctors there were filming it. Diana died, because somehow the light incinerated her. The only reason that Diana hasn’t passed on to the other side is because she has some inexplicable psychic connection to Sophie, and if Sophie gets better, Diana will go away. But obviously, it’ll be a cold day in Hell before Diana lets that happen.  Hell, Martin’s dad was trying to break Sophie and Diana’s connection. THEN WHY WAS HE SO OBLIVIOUS IN THE OPENING SCENE? Esther: Hey, I saw someone weird back there. Dad: Cool, all right, see ya. … Ah, I may as well check it out. DEAD. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? DID YOU WANT DIANA GONE OR NOT? YOU CLEARLY KNEW ABOUT HER!

You know, this is a problem with a lot of supernatural and psychological horror movies today: everything has to be explained. Almost every detail is now in plain view (plenty of which were revealed in the trailer), except for the few that actually needed to be explained. Where did Diana get this skin disease? Was she born with it, or did she catch it somewhere? How far did studies on it get, and was it potentially curable? How did she get the ability to go inside people’s heads and screw with their psyches, let alone actually do so? What caused her to be so aggressive toward others and possessive of Sophie? Could they give us a scientific explanation as to how this bright light experiment incinerated her, and how she was able to remain in the corporeal plane through her psychological connection to Sophie? How exactly did she become this special type of ghost? How does her gimmick work? How does a skin disease allow you to go inside people’s heads and become a ghost that appears when the lights go out? If you’re going to explain everything, then you need to go all out. Either that or make the movie that much scarier by withholding information or hinting at what makes Diana tick and/or having a reason to do what she does.

Remember the fakeout scene from earlier? In a way, it sets up this scare sequence. Omigod, there’s a bang at the door! Becca thinks it’s Bret with the food, but there’s no one at the door. How did Diana knock at the door when the hallway is so brightly lit? Becca then hears footsteps going through her apartment and sounds coming from her closet. She hits the light switch and the closet light turns on. How convenient that the closet light switch was on the bedroom side of the door. Becca opens the closet door and Diana is not there. But Diana grabs Martin from under the bed and tries to pull him under. How come nobody noticed that Diana suddenly learned how to teleport? Becca manages to pull him back out. I love how Diana clearly pulls Martin’s shoe off in one shot as Becca retrieves Martin, but in the next shot, the shoe is back on.

So Diana can get at them from pretty much anywhere. There are shadows everywhere; why doesn’t Diana take any and every single little opportunity to kill Martin and Becca? Can she get at them from every shadow fathomable? From under the table? Under a piece of furniture? Under the bed? Under a blanket? There are shadows under there, right? Are there limitations? Do the shadows have to be as big as she is? Do they have to be just the right level of dark? Or can Diana only get them when the plot says so? It doesn’t make any sense!

Becca, Martin, and Bret go to Sophie’s house, telling Sophie that they need to talk. But they make sure to wait until after dinner, of course. Also, don’t even bother to introduce Sophie to Bret. And in this scene, the camerawork gets really shaky. Becca asks Sophie to tell them about Diana. As Becca tries to explain that Sophie and Diana met at the mental hospital, Sophie interprets the situation as Becca trying to take Martin away from her or Becca feeling bad about leaving her on bad terms. Sophie goes upstairs and locks herself in her room. You know, Sophie, if you’re the reason Diana’s spirit can’t cross to the other side, then you need to let her go. You’re hurting her by keeping her here. Let her go.

Realizing the situation, Becca, Martin, and Bret decide to stay at Sophie’s place so they can help her as they can. So they put in some safeguards. They open the curtains. They tape the light switches up. They store flashlights in convenient places just in case. They light candles. Martin asks Becca to sleep in his bed with him tonight. Becca agrees, and goes downstairs to tell Bret. She passes by her mother’s bedroom door, but finds it locked. She talks to Bret, who is all-understanding and intends to tough the situation out alongside Becca, Martin, and Sophie. Good for him. I wish we felt the bond between Becca and Bret, but with the movie’s ungodly short eighty-one-minute length, we have no such luck. Becca goes back upstairs. She stops and knocks on her mother’s door. Sophie answers and seems to be accepting that moving past Diana and getting better is the best thing to do. She decides that come tomorrow morning, she will start over on this whole situation. She secretly puts a slip of paper into Becca’s hand and hugs her before backing up and being gently pulled into the room by Diana. The slip has writing on it that reads, “I need help”. I wish we felt more of the connection between Becca and her mother, but the punishingly short runtime prevents us from doing so. Becca goes into the bathroom to search for her mom’s meds, but the light flickers, and Becca, smart for once, hightails it out of there. She gets into bed with Martin. Good luck sleeping with all that light.

Thus far, I have been feeling nothing for the characters until the forced sentimental exchanges in the last thirty minutes. And it’s too little, too late.

Wait, the last thirty minutes? That means we’re almost at the climax now! What? There has been no buildup whatsoever! We’re also not even an hour into the movie.

After a little while, the power goes out. Why the hell didn’t they think of that? Becca grabs a windup flashlight and investigates. This house seems pretty brightly lit for being at night. That, or unless there’s a ridiculously bright moon tonight. She can’t find Bret. Oh no, Bret lef – oh, wait, he didn’t; he’s outside, and he sees that the power’s out for the whole block. Becca goes down into the basement to check the fuse box. Yes, because going down the steep, narrow stairs into the dark, creepy, claustrophobic basement is the smrt thing to do. She checks the fuse box, and nothing works. Back upstairs, Martin wakes up, briefly freaks out, and grabs a candle. He starts to head downstairs, but he is briefly accosted by Diana. He manages to fend her off with his candle, and he backs away into the darkness downstairs. Yeah, you’re not open to attack from behind at all. In fact, that’s a major problem with most of the characters from here to the end: they never think that they might be open to an attack from behind. But rarely does this attack come. Martin runs to the basement, where he berates Becca for leaving him alone. But the two quickly realize that them going down into the basement was them walking right into a trap. Duh, it’s the basement, and you’re in a horror movie. Diana slams the basement door and locks it, trapping them inside. Bret comes back inside and hears their cries for help, and tries to get the door open. But Diana accosts him, and he fends her off with the light from his phone that displays the words… “scare assault”. Okay. That is, until the phone inexplicably turns off. Diana smashes it and chases Bret out of the house. He runs under the shadow of the roof over the part of the driveway next to the doorway, where Diana snatches him. Hey, Diana learned how to teleport again. But he pulls his car keys out of his pocket and hits the button, turning on the car lights and making Diana disappear. He gets in his car and drives off. HE’LL BE BACK, OBVIOUSLY. Becca tries to tell Martin that Bret isn’t actually leaving, but Martin reminds her that she did. Hell of a time to bring that up. The two decide to find more light, and go down into the basement.

Sophie decides to exit her room with a lit candle that Diana inexplicably didn’t tell her to get rid of. After calling to Becca and Martin and getting no response, she reminds Diana that she told her not to hurt her children. Sophie goes for her pills which Diana had years to get rid of, but Diana swats her away, and Sophie falls and hits her head on her dresser, knocking herself out. Sophie never even tried to take her pills before? As you remember, she clearly realized the direness of the situation, and clearly knew that she had to take her meds. Hell, all she ever had to do tonight was turn on the damn lights. Also, how exactly does taking her meds get rid of Diana?

Becca and Martin set a fire in the furnace. Becca says she’s “working on a plan”. Right. Martin gets out a box. He opens it to find a bunch of Halloween stuff and, conveniently, a big working black light. Becca goes to look around with the black light while Martin stays by the fire. Because splitting up is the smrt thing to do. Becca finds a handprint that shows up under black light for some reason. Did Diana dip her hand in fluorescent ink first? Or lemon juice? Becca even comes across a ton of writing on the walls that must also have been done in fluorescent ink or lemon juice. There are even some mannequins in there, though the faces are slashed to hell. But one of the mannequins turns around. Jumpscare; it’s Diana, who can apparently show up under a black light! Becca runs back a ways, but when she reaches down to grab a shovel, Diana grabs her. Martin shines an actual light on her, and this burns her. The two get back to the furnace. So Diana can show up under black light, and when you’re doing that, you can shine an actual light on her and burn her. What? Somehow, Diana stops the furnace fire. Becca and Martin shout for their mother.

Bret has returned to the house with the police. I told you he’d be back. What exactly did Bret tell the police to get them there? And he brought a couple of expendable extras who will serve as useless cannon fodder just so this movie can have an actual body count! Gotta somehow rack the body count up to more than just one! The police go over to the basement door and break it open.

Upstairs, Sophie wakes up. She notices that all her pills are gone. I guess Diana realized that she shouldn’t let Sophie have her pills even though she’s been able to hide or dispose of them for years. Sophie tries to open her door, but it’s locked. After threatening Diana, she busts open the door.

The police spot Diana. One goes to investigate and is accosted, despite obviously having his light pointed in the direction he was pulled. He tries to shoot Diana, but she disappears whenever a shot is fired, and she kills him. The other officer goes after Diana, but is also killed. Becca gets Martin to Bret while she goes to look for Sophie. She is accosted by Diana, who threatens to do to her what she did to her father. Yaaaaay, more drama. “Hey, Mom, I want to contact my birth father. How can I do that?” “I dunno.” Plus, where was the investigation into this missing person case? Diana throws Becca over the railing and down to the first floor. Diana corners Becca in a corner. Sophie points a gun at Diana, somehow having purchased a gun in the ultra-liberal hellhole of Los Angeles. So where was she the rest of the scene? Drama drama drama, Sophie kills herself and Diana is defeated because of the psychological bond BS. The horror is over. Can’t show any blood or we won’t get a PG-13. Becca mourns her mother and goes out to meet Bret and Martin (why didn’t they go in and help?), the three promise to be a happy family, the power somehow comes back on, a flickering light hints at a sequel, and the movie sort of just stops. From the moment Diana was defeated until the end credits start rolling, the movie resolves in just under two minutes.

And for those of you that kept score at home, the movie has, over a seventy-seven-minute runtime sans credits, executed twenty scare sequences, including the Martin fakeout. Do a little math, and it comes out to one scare sequence happening every four minutes. Wow. So not only is this too many, but there are so many scare sequences that the movie becomes not only monotonous, predictable, and repetitive, but by the end, it’s starting to get boring. That’s right – a less-than-eighty-minute movie sans credits is boring. The movie could have easily been cut to about half its length, and it would have been much better. Worse, not only are the jumpscares here in abundance, but every scare sequence has at least one. Not just one or two or three or four or five or six or seven scare sequences, but literally all twenty scare sequences, give or take maybe one, either end in or feature one or more jumpscares. Not that the jumpscares are fake or unearned; on the contrary, most of them are executed pretty well. But every single jumpscare is the same thing every time. And the sinking dread of predictable and repetitive monotony has set in by the fifth or sixth one. The decently clever crafting of some of the jumpscares is negated, and I was bored by the time I was twenty-five to thirty minutes in. Anticipating an audience for jumpscares that may or may not happen, rather than creating a sensation of ever-building dread, is not making them scared of the evil entity in the movie; it’s making them scared of the jumpscares. But in Lights Out, there is no “may or may not” at all; the jumpscare(s) will inevitably happen. When there are too many jumpscares, the movie loses its rewatchability. Oh, and the scariest moments were all given away in the trailer, including Diana’s inexplicable ability to appear under black light. Remember Hitchcock describing true fear as a group of people sitting around a table, not knowing when a bomb under it is about to go off? Well, Lights Out makes it painfully obvious every time a bomb is about to go off. It’s a far cry from the short film.

Unfortunately, whatever scariness Lights Out might have had evaporates upon the realization that every scare sequence in the entire movie is based around Diana’s one gimmick. This gimmick was used to terrifying effect in the short film. Unfortunately, in the full-length film, the gimmick not only wears off quick, but the filmmakers don’t even try to add anything to it, expand it, or subvert it, except for a contrived reason for it to actually be happening and Diana being able to appear under black light and be burned by real light simultaneously. Diana’s gimmick is an interesting concept, but it is milked completely dry by the time we’re five minutes into the movie. It would have been nice had we gotten a cinematic version of SCP-173 or the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who but with an extra foil added to their gimmicks. You’d think that the basic idea of a ghost that appears in the dark but disappears in the light could lead to various unexpected situations of the lights going out or the ghost finding all sorts of ingenious or convenient ways to put the characters in the dark. But these scenes seemingly happen randomly, and they usually result in the characters splitting up and wandering off on their own and putting themselves in trouble, with barely any trouble happening anyway. Once you’ve seen one scare sequence in the movie, you’ve seen them all. None of them give the movie any sense of pacing, let alone suspense or horror. Though it managed to stay away from a cliché ending, the movie still trips over its own unoriginality one too many times. Worse, it’s not directed or acted well enough to overcome the numerous predictable moments and sequences.

Many of the scariest movies of all time leave a lot to the imagination. We’re given bits and pieces of explanation, but never too much. We’re allowed to fill in the blanks with our own imagination (Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Inactivity don’t count because they ruined themselves by making the characters unlikable). The original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre did this excellently. The VVitch did this beautifully. Lights Out wants to explain everything; hell, the explanation as to what Diana is and what makes her tick is the centerpiece of the whole movie. But if you’re going to explain everything, then you need to explain everything rather than skimp out on the most important questions. By explaining almost everything, Lights Out squanders the one fear it desperately needed to tap into: the fear of the unknown. The fear of the unknown is humanity’s most primal fear. Who is this spirit? Why is she after our characters? Why does she continuously milk her one gimmick? The movie took that away from its audience, leaving them with a predictable story and a litany of jumpscares. This is a problem with a lot of scary movies today: everything needs to be explained.

Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to do psychological horror, deciding to just churn out conveyer-belt-type horror flicks that are all just twists on the same theme. For example, Blumhouse Productions. Blumhouse gets a lot of flak for some of their stinkers, with their most recent ones being The Boy Next Door, The Lazarus Effect, Unfriended, Area 51, The Gallows, Paranormal Inactivity: The Ghost Dimension, and most recently The Darkness (I’ll be getting to that one later). But when Blumhouse gets it right, they get it right, with their most recent gems being Oculus, Insidious: Chapter 3, Creep, The Gift, The Visit, Hush, and most recently, Ouija: Origin of Evil.

Elements that this movie needed to utilize were that of total darkness and playing around with the shadows. Lights Out could have been a gold mine of opportunity for the amazing usage of lighting, lack of lighting, and natural lighting. Sinister used that brilliantly. In Lights Out, we are rarely if ever in total darkness. The contrast between lights and shadows was definitely there, but was never utilized correctly. Worse, Diana stands out so prominently from the shadows. She is reliably there every time. The shadows needed to be the prominent character in each shot. The shadows needed to be as dark or almost as dark as Diana was, so she can be borderline unseen, lurking and hiding in them and waiting silently to attack. David Sandberg needed to play around with the shadows and screw with the audience. He needed to introduce the idea of uncertainty as to whether or not Diana was actually standing in that shadow. He needed to make both the characters and the audience unsure. They should be thinking, “Oh my gosh, is Diana there? Is she not? I don’t know! She could be! The shadow is certainly dark enough, but I have no idea if she’s there or not!” That’s scary! For example, one character could be looking at one corner, and the movie could suggest to the character and the audience that Diana might actually be there. And then Diana could blindside both the character and the audience from behind or from the side. Another problem with Diana is that we see too much of her because she stands out so prominently. She needs to be in and around corners or under tables and furniture and beds or on the ceiling or camouflaging herself among the shadows. She should never be standing out in the open. All we should be seeing is, perhaps, a hand, those eyes, or a few strands of hair as she flees around a corner, under something, or into the nearest shadow. The less we see of the evil entity, the scarier it becomes. Plus, there needs to be a hint that Diana’s not the only evil entity living in the shadows.

A scary movie is only as good as its villain: Diana herself. She’s an evil chick that is somehow psychologically attached to the mother of two children, and relies on the mother’s mental instability to survive. Diana’s problem is that she breaks her own rules all the effing time. She could be scary and even ungodly brutal in the opening scene, but be harmless, undisturbing, and shallow for the rest of the film. Sometimes she needs people to open doors for her, other times she can teleport around like a damn god. Sometimes she can appear in somewhat dark shadows, other times she can only appear in total darkness. Sometimes she can get you in a lit room from under your bed, but at other times, she can’t get in a freaking door. Sometimes she can pull you into the dark if you get too close to the shadows, but other times she can’t. She can shatter lightbulbs or black out power grids, but other times she can’t. Plus, Diana’s had a million opportunities to kill off Becca and Martin; why wait until now? Because plot? Also, how can she get from person to person? How can she suddenly show up at the stepdad’s factory or Becca’s apartment? Does she walk all the way there or does she teleport? How awkward would it be if she had to take an Uber ride to two of the four places in this movie? Does she have a cell phone? How would she pay the driver? Would she mooch some cash off of Sophie? She’d have to, because I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have a checking account or a credit/debit card. Diana seems to be connected to Sophie’s family members, but she doesn’t seem to go after Becca until Becca has Martin over at her apartment. Also, when the lights are off and she’s standing there, she’s clearly not in spirit form, as her form is tangible. How does she survive? What does she eat? Does she bathe? Does she ask Sophie for clothes to wear? Doesn’t she get depressed because of her inability to be exposed to sunlight? Does she long for the ability to feel its warmth on her? Do Diana and Sophie ever have a girls’ night out on the town? Does Diana ever feel the desire to have a man in her life or does she feel a lesbian attraction to Sophie? Has Diana aged since she “died”? She and Sophie are about the same age (Maria Bello is forty-nine); is she starting to go through menopause? Is she feeling the effects of not being in her prime? Has she ever felt the womanly instinct of desiring to fall in love, get married, and have children? Anything remotely human? Diana doesn’t seem to have any real goal other than being a bitch (pardon me). She needs Sophie to be depressed or she supposedly vanishes, but decides to try to kill her kids despite them trying to leave her alone, which in theory Diana should be thankful for. For being a chick that just wants to be left alone, she seems to be contradicting herself pretty often. If she just wants to be left alone, why does she attack Becca and Martin? She revealed herself to Becca and even scratched her own name into the floorboards. Diana as a character makes no sense. Despite looking creepy enough, I never felt that she posed any sort of threat to the characters. The characters try to explain everything about her, but not only do the explanations not fit together, but Diana becomes less compelling and less scary. Worse, her origin story was eerily reminiscent of Sadako/Samara from Ringu/The Ring (whichever you prefer; I personally prefer Ringu). Now that I think about it, Lights Out bears much more than a passing similarity to Ringu. But at least Ringu’s premise made more sense. In Lights Out, Diana, this mental patient with a never-before-heard-of skin disease befriends the main character’s mother at a mental hospital. Hasn’t the mental hospital backstory trope been played out yet? Diana can’t be in light, even though she was plenty of times, but she can get inside people’s heads, and that’s why she’s still around in spectral form – she’s attached to the mother’s mind. The movie never explains how Diana was able to do any of this. Where did her skin disease come from? How was Diana able to get inside people’s heads? How did she manipulate Sophie into “friendship”? How many people did she do this to besides Sophie? A Lights Out sequel was announced after the movie’s successful opening weekend, so obviously Diana must have gotten attached to someone else. How did she die? How did she remain in this world by being attached psychologically to Sophie’s mind? How did she get super powers? It doesn’t make any sense! Plus, the characters accepted this BS really quickly and easily. Diana is about as subtle as the Titanic sinking in the middle of the Atacama Desert. Whenever she appears, the music always screams at you in an attempt to scare you, but if you know when these moments will be (this is an incredibly easy task) and just plug your ears and look at what’s going on, Diana’s about as scary as a box of Jujubes. But those Jujubes would still be scarier than Diana.

Some of the characters do the stupidest of things, like walk toward where they know Diana could be, rather than staying in a well-lit area. Though they know that they have to stay in the light to avoid Diana, they still point the light away from them instead of keeping themselves in the light. It was almost funny to see a character holding a light in front of him/her, be it a flashlight or a candle, and backing away into the dark. The excuse that the characters don’t know any better is immediately debunked, as the whole damn family knows that Diana is real and has scars to show from it. They’ve known for a long time how to avoid her. Diana clearly has the power to yank you into the darkness from behind and do away with you immediately. As to why Diana grabs them by their shoulders or stands in a doorway or utilizes other various ridiculous ideas, I do not know.

With the movie being only eighty minutes long, it freezes all efforts to delve into the pasts of our characters, really develop them, and maybe even give them an arc. The only character that had anything negligibly close to a character arc was Sophie. Instead, the characters we get are generic, underdeveloped, minimally motivated, whose backstories are ungodly vague and uninteresting, and whose exchanges are unnatural and forced. Sometimes the movie would tell us about its characters via its expository dialogue, revealing that David Sandberg finds it incredibly difficult to introduce us to the characters and their backstories with any semblance of thought or heart. He clearly has no experience in directing emotionally charged character interaction. The scene in which Becca talks to the CPS agent was perhaps the best example of this, with Becca saying that Martin’s father was only her stepfather, and that her real dad left years ago. Who on earth says that after having only met someone a few seconds ago? It’s as if Sandberg may as well have written on every frame of that exchange, “This is part of the exposition.” Despite being only eighty minutes long, I can’t deny that the movie definitely tries to tell us about its characters and make us sympathize with them. Especially Bret, who’s clearly trying hard to win Becca’s affections and convince her to open up to him, and, despite his clumsiness, is very earnest in his sympathy for her. He is (perhaps unintentionally) the most interesting character in the movie despite clearly not being the main character. In fact, of the four protagonists, he’s obviously the farthest one from being the main character. The movie does spend some time trying to make you learn about the characters (except Bret), but it does so little with it that you wonder what the point was. Ultimately, the story is a simple, basic family drama that’s too restrained and too safe to ever explore the farthest regions of mental instability and the disruption it inflicts on family ties, or create an engaging mystery. The potential was there to write an interesting story, but David Sandberg failed to utilize it. He could have come up with a much better reason for how shadow people come to be, what makes them tick, and why they do what they do.

It’s not as if it was acted or scripted well enough to make it tolerable. Though the Rotten Tomatoes critic consensus describes the performances as “terrific”, I personally found them to be kind of shaky. Though the actors aren’t bad to look at, their performances leave something to be desired. Not that they’re bad in any way; on the contrary, some of them do pretty well at particular moments. But the script gives them nothing to work with, especially poor Maria Bello, who simply doesn’t get enough screentime or workable lines and exchanges to show off her talent. She probably could have come across as mentally unstable, but the script combined with the other actors having little idea what they’re doing hinders her to the point of borderline blandness. Teresa Palmer has one emotion (pouty), Gabriel Bateman never succeeded in convincing me that he was actually scared, and Alexander DiPersia … tried. The dialogue doesn’t help, as all conversations feel unnatural. Sometimes the characters make a weird decision that sets up a scare later. The different subplots (if there were any) and the main story are uninteresting, and when we get to the climax, the movie becomes predictable. At least the movie tried to give us a story; some crappy horror flicks won’t even do that. But whatever story we get is overwrought with limp, poorly scripted characters, and disinterested performances. But it’s hard to blame Palmer, Bateman, DiPersia, and Bello, who all had to undertake the not-exactly-possible task of delivering clumpy dialogue while navigating an avalanche-prone mountain of illogical choices. The movie takes itself way too seriously, and fails to rise above crushingly mediocre. The movie as a whole feels very small; it doesn’t help that there’s only, like, ten people in this movie (did I count that right? Let’s see, four main characters…two secondary characters that are basically bit parts, three bit parts, and an antagonist. Yup, ten).

At least the movie’s nice to look at. Though the camerawork isn’t very dynamic, it’s shot very well; the angles are well-chosen, and the scenes look crisp and clear. The sets are well-crafted, and the costumes and props are all natural. The actors are nice to look at, too. Unfortunately, though the lighting for the non-dark scenes works very well, the lighting when Diana is around leaves a lot to be desired.

At least the soundtrack is decent. I like the chord progressions it uses in the ending theme. The score in general is really emotive once it gets going, but it’s completely underused, purely for the sake of creating jumpscares with it.

I went to see this movie twice, and both times, I did not hear anyone in the audience react to the litany of jumpscares. The eighty-minute length became almost a blessing. But, unfortunately, the length is a two-edged sword, and it’s far sharper on the other side. The fact that Lights Out can’t even breach the ninety-minute mark is a flagrant warning that the film you are about to see contains little to no substance or investment in the characters and how they unveil the truth behind the situation. The movie in its entirety is simply a backdrop for Jumpscare Central. It’s simply a roller coaster ride. But here’s the thing: though I love roller coasters, when I go to the theater to see a movie, I expect to see a movie.

Lights Out is forced, strained, caricatural, and not properly thought out. The idea could have worked in a better script, but David Sandberg can’t bring anything fresh, clever, or innovative to the table. Horror as a genre is a gold mine for subtext, symbols, and metaphors. What particular fear does the monster (physical or psychological) represent? What does conquering it or falling before it say about the fear it represents?

I really enjoyed the short film. The Internet in general did too. But not because of the “story”, what little there was. We liked it because it got under our skin by playing on the primal fear of darkness that we spent our entire childhoods trying to get out of our system and never truly succeeded. But by stretching out the story, trying and failing to create a mythology, writing laughably shaky dialogue, and shoehorning in an inordinate amount of jumpscares, David Sandberg not only sucked out what made the original scary, but shot himself and his feature-length movie in their collective foot. The original short is so good, combining a slow build with repetition and curiosity and placing something frightening and evil into a typically comforting scenario, and finishing it off with perhaps one of the creepiest images in recent years. It feels like the everyday situation in which you wake up in the middle of the night and walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and fearing that at any moment a black, icy hand will reach out and yank you into the dark. The fright of the short film was the ghost who, over the course of only three minutes, made her presence known even when she wasn’t onscreen with creaks and noises. Lotta Losten, David Sandberg’s wife, who played the protagonist in the short film, even reenacts the iconic first third of the short in a significantly below-par reinterpretation of the same scene that scared the bejabbers out of everyone on YouTube.

Though the short film was great, it did not need a full-length treatment. We see this a lot nowadays: various attempts to capitalize off of some popular internet story, meme, or urban legend that, when extended, loses what made it special in the first place. Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever should never have been made. Unfriended could have worked very well as a short film, but as an eighty-minute slog through quicksand, it fails miserably. The same goes for Lights Out. The short film was unsettling and creepy as just that, a short film. Giving it a backstory made it feel cheapened and degraded. No scene in the movie is as good as the original short film. The closest the movie got was the opening scene, but even that scene copied and pasted the first third of the short film into the feature length film. And I fear that the same thing is going to happen to SiREN, the feature-length adaptation of the “Amateur Night” segment from V/H/S. Please don’t mess that up, because “Amateur Night” was freaking good (the rest of V/H/S can go eff off).
Though I appreciate David Sandberg’s efforts in giving his audience a quick, cheap, clean, and lean horror flick, Lights Out really should have remained a short film. Despite some calling the movie the best horror movie in years, I personally find it to be a painfully, crushingly mediocre look at one’s primal fear of the dark. If David Sandberg was going to base his full-length movie off of the three-minute short film that he himself made, he could have at least made it better than the short film. Unfortunately, everyone’s seen the short film by now, and the novelty has worn off.

You know what would be a fantastic scene in the movie? This. “Character is in total darkness save for a flashlight illuminating the immediate area around him and dead silence save for one or two skittering sounds. The situation is clearly getting to him/her. S/he’s pale, sweating, crying, wide-eyed, breathing hard, and shaking like mad, also shaking the flashlight. As s/he hears the skittering sounds, s/he quickly turns around, but there’s nothing there. Maybe once or twice, the flashlight will go out and the character will shake the flashlight until it turns back on. Maybe on the second time, when the light comes on, we can see the slightest glimpse of a face quickly disappearing into the shadows. This scene needs to go on for several minutes (at least five), letting the suspense and tension build themselves. Let the suspense and tension build to such an unbearable level that the character gives up and curls into the fetal position on the floor, shining the light on his/her face as a last bastion of possible safety. And then, when the light flickers and dims, the character’s and audience’s hopes of getting out alive grow just as faint. Just show either a pair of eyes opening behind him/her or a hand slowly reaching toward him/her. Don’t show it grabbing him/her; just show it reaching toward him/her. The light finally goes out. And that’s where the movie ends. No scream, no instrumental sting, no other sounds, no jumpscare whatsoever. Just leave the audience with a feeling of total, utter emptiness.” That would have been one hell of a scene to end the movie on. It’s a pity it wasn’t in the movie.

But hey, maybe it’ll be in the sequel.

Final verdict: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Review 85: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole (2/5)

Image result for legend of the guardians the owls of ga'hoole

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole

Directed by Zack Snyder

Starring Jim Sturgess, Emily Barclay, Ryan Kwanten, David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Joel Edgerton, Hugo Weaving

Released on September 24, 2010

Running time: 1h 36m

Rated PG

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Action

Again, just like I Am Number Four and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, I went into Guardians completely blind. I have never read Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’hoole books (though at least one of my three brothers has read the first four), so I have no blinders to wear.

Question: why was the title extended so much? Did the filmmakers not get the rights to the title? Why not just call it Guardians of Ga’hoole? How intentional was it that your title is such a mouthful?

I actually had to do some research to figure out that the movie is set in Australia and Tasmania. The story begins as the opening titles showcase animation that can only be described as astounding. Seriously, this animation is amazing. It focuses on an owl father as he flies back to his nest where his mate, children, and snake nursemaid wait for him.

It’s gorgeous to see the rising sun shine through the clouds, to see this owl fly so gracefully through the air with each individual feather having been animated. Not only is the character animation absolutely stellar, but the backgrounds are incredibly detailed and practically photorealistic. I haven’t seen animation this good since movies like The Good Dinosaur (which is heavily underrated) and Kubo and the Two Strings (which is a little overrated). It’s a pity that the soundtrack is a little subpar, though in some parts of the movie, it had some nice chord progression.

The father rejoins his family. I forget the parents’ names, though I do remember that the mother is voiced by Essie Davis, who was the mother in The Babadook (go see it!), and the father is voiced by Hugo Weaving.

AGENT SMITH (The Matrix Revolutions): Cookies need love like everything does.

I’m serious, Hugo Weaving voicing this father is so odd. I half expected him to drop a “Missur Annurson”.

The owl couple has three owlets. The first two are named Soren (Sturgess) and Kludd (Kwanten). The third is Eglantine (oh, how you’ll shine! Your lot and my lot have got to combine! Bedknobs and Broomsticks reference!). I presume Eglantine is from a later clutch; that would explain her age difference with Soren and Kludd, though it doesn’t explain why Soren and Kludd have Australian accents and Eglantine has an American one. Though Sturgess and Kwanten do decent voice acting, they are far too old for their parts; they were both in their early-to-mid-thirties, and they’re trying to voice owls who would probably be tweens in human years. This is especially true of Sturgess, who’s clearly faking a voice that is a soft, smooth high tenor and the cliché hero voice. The owl family also has a snake nursemaid named Mrs. Plithiver, Mrs. P (Margoyles) for short. Through our first exposition dump, we learn that Soren is the common starry-eyed social everyman who dreams of doing more with his life and possible becoming a hero, and that Kludd is a skeptical pessimist who harbors a deep-seated envy for his brother’s affability and natural skill. Gee, I wonder if he’s eventually going to turn evil. Such is shown when their father starts teaching them to glide down from branch to branch, with Kludd having difficulties and Soren picking it up rather easily. More exposition deals with what the guardians of the Ga’hoole tree are, and we even hear one of the legends: of the Battle of the Ice Claws, in which the great Lyze of Kiel defeated the leader of an army of evil owls, ripping off much of his face. This evil owl would go on to wear a large metal mask to hide his face, taking on the moniker of Metal Beak. The army he led was known as the Pure Ones, and they consisted only of Tyto owls (barn owls), who sought to bring all owldom under their rule, as they believed that they were the greatest of all owls. Obviously these will be the villains of this movie eventually, but do they have better motivation than just being really, really racist Nazi wannabes?

Soren and Kludd decide to fit in a little extra practice before they go to sleep that morning (because owls are nocturnal), because that totally won’t go wrong. They screw up and fall all the way to the ground. After an attack by what I can only presume is a Tasmanian devil (no, not the one from Looney Tunes), two owls snatch them and carry them away. These two owls are named Jutt and Jatt. Are they supposed to be twins or something? These two are annoying. Kludd almost gets away, but fails.

Eventually they encounter a large group of other owls, also with kidnapped owlets in tow. Soren meets an elf owl named Gylfie (Barclay), who is being carried by another owl named Grimble (Weaving. Why the dual role? Is Grimble eventually going to take pity on Soren and become almost a father figure to him?). As the characters talk to each other, I find myself noticing that though the natural Australian accents are tolerable, the faked ones are aggravating.

The horde eventually arrives at some foggy, mountainous, rocky area that I guess is supposed to be some sort of naturally formed fortress featuring a lot of stuff that apparently these owls actually built. I have no idea how these owls have been able to build all this. Some of the owls are even wearing metal helmets and metal claws. How have these owls learned how to make fire? How have these owls learned how to mine raw ore, refine it, and forge it into armor? The kidnapped owlets are herded into the center of some sort of room. Soren shields Gylfie (why? Because she’s tiny?) as Jutt, Jatt, and Grimble explain that the owlets are at some place called Saint Aegolius and that they will be split into two groups: soldiers and pickers. A soldier’s job is self-explanatory, but what do pickers do? We see a white Tyto owl fly in. She introduces herself as Nyra (Mirren), mate to the Lord High Tyto, who is the leader of the Pure Ones and obviously Metal Beak. With the way she poises herself and looks down her beak at every owl in the room, she immediately comes off as stuck-up, haughty, snooty, conceited, and arrogant. When Gylfie speaks out, Nyra hops down from her perch toward her. When Soren tries to shield Gylfie, Nyra addresses him as a fellow Tyto and tells him to step away from Gylfie, who she addresses as a “piece of felt”. So owls know how to make fabric? Soren refuses, and Nyra scornfully assigns him and Gylfie to be pickers, having Jutt and Jatt take them away. Soren asks what will become of Kludd. Nyra asks Kludd if he wants to join his brother, but he turns away. Oooookay, could Kludd’s disdain for Soren have been more developed? This betrayal was not earned, as thus far, the only conflict between Soren and Kludd has been Kludd’s pessimism, skepticism of the Ga’hoole legends, and jealousy of his brother’s natural skill. Come on.

Kludd, along with the rest of the kidnapped Tyto owlets save Soren, are brought with Nyra to be trained as soldiers, while the rest of the group are to be pickers. Soren continues to shield Gylfie (there needs to be another reason than “because she’s tiny”) as the mass of owlets are herded into another room. An owl with cataracts in both eyes passes by, and Gylfie says that this owl must have been “moon blinked”, which apparently happens when an owl goes to sleep under the full moon. An owl will essentially become a zombie. Not a Romero-type zombie, but rather something similar to a voodoo zombie; a silent, slow-moving, personality-less owl that obeys orders without question. The owlets are herded into a roofless room with the full moon in full view. Soren and Gylfie resolve to stay up all night. It’s amazing that they haven’t been overheard yet. You know, actors, when you’re recording your dialogue, you are speaking into a microphone. You are speaking into state-of-the-art sound equipment. You can whisper. It’s not hard. Gylfie even mentions that she knows these stars, even though she’s still an owlet who can’t even fly; how does she know these stars?

The next morning, Soren and Gylfie notice that the rest of the owlets have been moon blinked. The owlets are herded out of the room, and Soren and Gylfie attempt to act like they’ve been moon blinked. But this is verbally communicated between them, and I’m amazed that none of the guards have noticed that they haven’t been moon blinked. Also, Gylfie thinks that acting moon blinked means walking stiffly with her wings outstretched. In fact, Grimble even notices this as well as Soren’s clearly-not-moon-blinked eyes, but he lets them by. He’s going to help them escape later, isn’t he? The owlets are lined up.

Pan upwards to Nyra indoctrinating Kludd and the other Tyto owlets with various Pure One beliefs. Yes, yes, yes, the Pure Ones are Nazis. We get it. Literally everyone has made their villains like the Nazis. Nyra has them see which one can flap the highest.

Back to the line of owlets. An owl pellet from a large basket of them is thrown at each owlet’s feet. At least here Jutt and Jatt get a few slightly funny lines, even revealing that owls somehow have a numerical system that is the same as ours. One pellet is opened, containing what Jutt and Jatt are looking for. Jatt holds it up and the two explain that it contains a metal fleck. Why would a mouse eat bits of metal? Jutt gives it to Soren and tells him to take it to some container full of other metal flecks. But why is this container glowing with multiple arcs of blue magnetic energy? How have owls harnessed the power of magnetism? Gylfie looks on, and apparently she has a lazy eye, because the animators accidentally forgot to move her right eye at the same speed as her left. But the mistake fixes itself. Oops. As Soren gets close to the container of metal flecks, the magnetism not only grabs the fleck, but the magnet ray thingymabobber seems to be grabbing at something in his chest? What? Did soren eat a mouse with a metal fleck in its stomach earlier? A bat jumps out of nowhere and snatches the metal fleck and puts it in the container. Another bat flies in and carries the container away. Because bats are totally that strong. Soren staggers back to Gylfie, telling her that the Pure Ones are doing something terribly wrong. What exactly are the Pure Ones doing with the metal and magnetic BS? Soren says that they need to find Kludd and get out of there, but Grimble catches them talking. In the shot of Grimble’s face, I could not help but notice that Soren’s face was reflected in his eyes. Neat!

Shot of the small containers of metal flecks being taken to a larger container. A voice speaks, and the camera pulls back. The voice says that when they have amassed enough flecks, they will set a trap. Cut to the silhouettes of two owls, one of which is wearing an ornate helmet. This is Metal Beak (Edgerton). He’s made a deal with the other owl: in return for luring the Guardians of the Ga’hoole tree into this trap, the other owl will be given the western kingdom and the tree. To be perfectly honest, Joel Edgerton does a decent evil voice. The last movie I reviewed that he was in was The Odd Life of Timothy Green, in which he played Timothy’s adopted dad. Though the movie was garbage, Edgerton was trying his hardest. Metal Beak is an entirely different character to play, and he does decently. If only he had better dialogue to work with. Though it would be nice if he didn’t sound like Mark Hamill as Ozai in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Though I can’t help but notice this: Metal Beak is not a Tyto. He’s a sooty owl. Hey, that’s like Hitler being brown-haired, blue-eyed, and Austrian rather than blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and native to Deutschland.

Also, as Grimble escorts Soren and Gylfie to another room, I can’t help but notice that the Tyto guards have red eyes. After making them think he’s going to kill them, he instead tells them that he’s going to teach them to fly. How convenient that he’s friendly. He tells them that the Pure Ones shanghaied him into the fold under threat of familial slaughter. Also, apparently, Grimble’s room is a sort of library. Well, we see books stacked up or hanging from lines. So owls know how to chop down trees, grind up the wood, make paper, make ink, write in some sort of language, and bind these books together? Wow. Grimble teaches Soren and Gylfie to fly.

Nyra tells her students that only the best will be presented to Metal Beak. She tosses a captive bluebird into the group and implies that they are to catch it. After much effort and slow-mo, Kludd is victorious. Though I have no idea what Nyra’s getting at when she tells Kludd that he shows obedience and discipline. Kludd lets the bluebird go. Nyra asks if Soren has similar capabilities, but Kludd lies, saying that Soren sucks. Nyra takes Kludd to go find Soren.

After much practice, Soren and Gylfie seem to be getting a better grip on how to fly. Grimble tells them that they will have to fly across the sea of Hoolemere to get to the Ga’hoole tree. Soren, Gylfie and Grimble are going to get caught, aren’t they? Soren’s going to beg Kludd to come with them, but Kludd will refuse, won’t he? Grimble will distract the Pure Ones in a badly choreographed fight scene, making the animation lose its realism for a time, and somehow die (seriously, how exactly does he die?) so that Soren and Gylfie can get away, won’t he? Soren and Gylfie will learn to fly under duress, and somehow the guards’ attempt to catch them will be foiled via slow-mo, leaving them open to escape, right? Yes. Boy, Soren really seems broken up about Kludd’s betrayal, doesn’t he? By the way, Gylfie is injured, but the movie forgets about it in less than five seconds.

At least this transitions into a brief flying scene, in which the completely natural character animation looks fantastic against the photorealistic environments. I have no idea how animation is able to capture the sun’s rays through the sky so well. Seriously, this animation is effing amazing. Unfortunately,

SOREN: Does it [flying] feel the way you thought it would?

GYLFIE: No. It feels much better.

Back at Pure Ones HQ, Nyra praises Kludd for choosing to stay, and Kludd offers to bring them Eglantine.

Soren and Gylfie get some arbitrary distance away, and Soren pins down a moth. A twitchy burrowing owl named Digger (Wenham) comes out and claims that the moth was his. After some funny business that arises after Gylfie appears and the movie remembers and forgets Gylfie’s injury again over the course of about ten seconds, Digger takes the two to his hollow, sharing a few bad owl jokes. Digger’s friend Twilight (LaPaglia) shows up with Mrs. P in tow, intending for her to be his and Digger’s dinner. But she is removed from the menu when Soren lets them know of her identity. After Soren tells Mrs. P of his and Kludd’s plights, Twilight reveals his personality trait: a “poet” of sorts. He even carries a handmade lute of his around. So an owl can carve wood, form strings out of some sort of material (definitely not metal), attach them to this piece of carved wood, identify a pitch, and tune the strings to various pitches. Okay. Twilight also needs voice lessons. I’d be happy to provide him with some. Twilight conveniently knows the way to the sea of Hoolemere, so the group sets off on their journey. Twilight carries his lute with him, with Mrs. P riding inside. She apparently loves the sensation of flying. Digger thinks Mrs. P might be the first snake to fly. Incorrect – the flying tree snake, native to Southeast Asia, can essentially “glide” from tree to tree. Watch various videos of it; it’s damn cool.

Nyra introduces Kludd to Metal Beak. Kludd now has Eglantine in tow. Wait – they kidnapped her offscreen? Come on!

You know, you’d think that the species of owl claiming dominance over the rest would be the great grey owls, right? They are the largest of the species, right?

Soren and the others continue their journey. They find themselves being followed by crows. The crows snatch the lute with Mrs. P. After some funny business, they get the lute back. They land, accompanied by a gorgeous tracking shot and are met by a blue-painted (paint? Really?) echidna who claims to have foretold their journey. Not just that, but he claims to have foretold every little detail. He tells them to follow a particular set of stars. He inspires them to continue. He gets a funny line. The group sets off across the sea…

…and soon find themselves lost in a snowstorm.

GYLFIE: I can’t find my bearings.

Give her a better line than that, please. Digger’s wings freeze and he falls toward the ocean. Soren can’t find him, but over the crest of the next wave flies one of the Guardians, carrying Digger. Wait, they found the Guardians already? That was quick! Another Guardian appears, beckoning the group to follow. The group flies to the Ga’hoole tree, and the shot of the sun shining through the tree literally gave me chills. Seriously, that is such a beautiful shot. The group lands, showing us that apparently these owls have somehow managed to master the art of woodwork and basic architecture, as they have built shelters, walkways, torches, poles and banners, baskets, and they’ve even learned how to make wax candles. The group is taken into the Guardians’ council room. The rulers seem to be a pair of snowy owls. Soren and Gylfie tell the Guardians of the actions of the Pure Ones. One of the Guardians named Allomere sounds exactly like that owl Metal Beak was meeting with earlier, and he doubts the group’s story. He’s a traitor, isn’t he? One other particularly disheveled Guardian named Ezylryb (Rush) (good luck pronouncing that), who believes the group, is a bit of a butt for mockery. Though the Guardians are somewhat skeptical, Soren somehow convinces them that though the only proof he has are his words, words were the only proof he’d ever had of the Guardians’ existence. The leader, Boron (like the element?) sends Allomere with several other owls to scout out Pure Ones HQ.

Hold it – if you take “ryb” off of “Ezylryb”, it becomes “Ezyl”; flip that and it becomes “Lyze”. Ezylryb is Lyze of Kiel? Ooooookay.

Outside, Soren and Gylfie watch Allomere’s group fly off. Ezylryb tells them that he’s impressed that they made it this far. A Guardian named Otulissa takes them on a sort of tour. Soren seems a little starstruck. Soren and Gylfie meet back up with Twilight and Digger for dinner, and the movie transitions into a crappy pop song. And guess who they got to perform this crappy pop song. Owl City, of course! Dammit. And what does this song accompany? A training montage, of course!

Owls will be trained in various skilled called “chaws”, such as tracking, navigation, combat, or even blacksmithing. Seriously, I’m absolutely dumbfounded that owls can apparently mine raw ore, refine it, forge it, and pound it into something, especially something that detailed. Jeez. As the training montage progresses, Digger gets pinched in the balls by a hermit crab, we see that owls can somehow make star charts and have their own constellations, know how to make floating lanterns out of leaves, and can harness the power of fire to heat the tree but also not burn the freaking thing down, and Twilight still needs to get over his pompous attitude.

As Metal Beak gives some sort of speech to his soldiers, Kludd is off to the side guarding Eglantine. Eglantine thus far has been refusing Pure One indoctrination, so Kludd, under the façade of taking her home tomorrow, steps to the side, revealing the light of the full moon. His intentions are obvious.

Soren is reading a book written by Lyze of Kiel about his experience in the Battle of the Ice Claws. Wait, Soren can read? How? Though his father always told him, Kludd, and Eglantine that the battle was a great victory and that Lyze of Kiel was a great hero, the book makes it seem like the battle was hellish. Ezylryb talks to him briefly about this. The next morning, Ezylryb takes Soren, Twilight, Digger, and Otulissa out to fly in a heavy rainstorm. It’s nice to see the light reflect off the wet wings as the owls struggle to fly while Ezylryb makes it look easy, using odd vocabulary. But this leads to another of the most beautiful shots in the movie: a slo-mo shot of Soren flying through the rain as lightning lights up the sky behind him. The animators not only had to animate every drop of rain, but every drop of rain that hits Soren and how it splashes, and Soren’s every feather. It looks astounding. Though Soren does screw it up, Ezylryb saves him and has him come to his hollow.

Allomere and his squadron sneak into Pure Ones HQ. They see the owlets. A few bats fly into the shot, and the squadron follows. They see two Pure Ones in a clearing and another standing on a massive rock spike. Allomere deals with the higher one while his squadron deals with the two down below. The squadron discovers that the two guards are stuffed fakes, and the bats open the container of magical magnet BS.

Ezylryb praises Soren for his skill, and reveals that he, Ezylryb, is Lyze of Kiel. Soren is surprised, and Ezylryb/Lyze tells him that battle is the polar opposite of glorious or heroic, and that he emerged scarred and minus a talon. Allomere arrives back at Guardians HQ with two owlets in tow, one of which is a moon blinked Eglantine. He then elaborates on the situation to the rest of the Guardians. Boron addresses one of the Guardians as Bubo. REFERENCE! The Guardians armor up and head to fight the Pure Ones. Soren tells Ezylryb/Lyze that he has to go with them, but Ezylryb/Lyze tells Soren that he wouldn’t last a minute in a real fight, and tells him to stay behind with his sister. He flies out to join the Guardians, and Soren goes to his sister.

So we’re pretty much nearing the climax now? Good heavens, I felt so little buildup to it!

The Guardians stealthily attack, taking out the first of the guards rather quickly. Question: is the sun being eclipsed right now? Because we currently have a case of crescent sun.

Soren has a one-sided conversation with his comatose sister about the stories they’d heard as owlets. But then Eglantine is suddenly un-moon-blinked somehow, and she reveals that Kludd made her moon blinked. Soren is surprised that Kludd would do this. Does he not remember that Kludd betrayed him twice earlier?

Cut back to the Pure Ones herding maybe a dozen or two owlets into a clearing. The Guardians approach. In voiceover, Eglantine reveals that she can somehow remember what happened while she was moon blinked: Kludd gave her to Allomere. But that would mean that Allomere would have to be a traitor, Soren says. I totally called it. Soren realizes that the Guardians are flying right into a trap. Well, of course, they do. While the guardians are distracted while fighting a horde of armed bats, the magic magnet BS container is opened, rendering the Guardians down for the count while Allomere escapes unscathed. Allomere a traitor? If we knew him as a character, this might not have made the plot feel contrived.

Soren takes Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger to help him, and they fly to help the Guardians. They make it to Pure Ones HQ in no time at all, and see that the Guardians are trapped by the magic magnet BS. A ways off, Nyra tells Allomere but really tells the audience that the magic magnet BS affects an owl’s gizzard. Oooookay. Soren and his companions say some lines off to the side, but Soren looks to the side to see the mothereffing forest burning down. When the hell did that happen?! The group comes up with a plan: Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger will distract the horde of bats headed over to the Guardians to finish them off while Soren lights a conveniently placed oil lamp on fire in the burning forest and uses it to blow up the magic magnet BS. As Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger head into battle, Twilight breaks out into his own version of the Toreador march from Carmen. Wow.

Off to the side, Nyra is pissed that the bats have been distracted by Soren’s companions. Metal Beak then tells Allomere that he never had any intentions of rewarding Allomere for his betrayal. Some bats appear out of freaking nowhere and drag Allomere into a hole, killing him.

Soren flies into the forest fire, showing another good slow-mo shot, but it’s one too many. Sorry, Zack Snyder, but the gimmick has worn off. The lamp is lit, and Soren flies into the magic magnet BS somehow unaffected and tosses it onto the container, somehow stopping the magic magnet BS in a much larger explosion than should be possible. Metal Beak orders the Pure Ones to attack. The Guardians fly up to meet them, Ezylryb/Lyze ordering Soren to guard the owlets with his companions. Though Twilight is allowed to join the attack for some reason. Yes, yes, yes, dramatic shots of the armies rushing toward each other and some slow-mo shots of various impacts. Fighting, fighting, and more fighting. Soren sees Kludd and rushes to meet him. The two fight in a fight that I know should be having more of a dramatic impact, but the rivalry between the two was not developed nearly enough. The fight moves into the burning forest.

Ezylryb/Lyze takes on Metal Beak. Why, in various movies, do two characters locked in combat have to make mini-speeches as they slowly circle each other? Ezylryb/Lyze gains the upper hand and seemingly knocks Metal Beak out. Yeah, he gets up. Come on, he gets up and gets the upper hand. Stop making us wait and just do it. I told you. Metal Beak and Nyra double-team Ezylryb/Lyze.

Back in the forest, the fight between Soren and Kludd is pretty underwhelming, as the centerpiece of the fight is clearly their dialogue. Question: whenever this form of racism occurs in all sorts of various movies, can it at least be explained why anyone would side with these racists except those who are evil? Clearly the Pure Ones gave Kludd something to believe in, but we needed to see the conflict within Kludd as he slowly accepted their principles. The Pure Ones, according to Kludd, believe in him like no one ever has. Eventually the fight results in a broken wing for Kludd as Soren tries to keep himself and Kludd from falling into the fire. Kludd tries to use the “I’m your brother” cliché, and it actually works. But as Soren tries to pull Kludd up, Kludd grabs onto a branch and tries to pull Soren down. The branch breaks, and Kludd falls into the fire. He’s fine. He’ll be in the sequel they’re never going to make. Soren, seeing the fight between Ezylryb/Lyze, Metal Beak, and Nyra, and knowing what the latter two did to Kludd, goes to join them, breaking off a burning branch too use as a weapon. It’d be nice if Soren, Nyra, and Metal Beak had more conflict between them.

Ezylryb/Lyze is getting his ass handed to him by Metal Beak and Nyra, but Soren knocks Metal Beak away and fights him. Ezylryb/Lyze takes Nyra on. Metal Beak sends the burning branch falling to the ground. Soren rushes down to get it, and when he does, he turns around and impales Metal Beak on it. Seeing that Metal Beak is dead, Nyra and the Pure Ones retreat. Soren’s friends fly down to meet him, and Ezylryb/Lyze tells him that his killing of Metal Beak will be written.

Soren, his companions, and the Guardians bring the captive owlets to the Ga’hoole tree, where Soren’s parents are waiting. Soren and his companions are welcomed back as heroes, and are named honorary Guardians. I had no idea owls knew how to make confetti. Soren, Eglantine, and their parents seem to be taking Kludd’s apparent death surprisingly well. Speaking of which, Kludd’s body was never found, and we see a shot of a red-eyed Kludd by Metal Beak’s mask. Cut back to Soren, who is telling the tale to a group of owlets. Soren, his companions, and Ezylryb/Lyze fly out around the Ga’hoole tree.

Fade to credits, where we hear the damn Owl City song again. Dammit.

The movie as a whole is such a missed opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, it does a good amount of things right. I’ve gushed about the animation a lot thus far, but seriously. This animation is some of the best I’ve ever seen, easily rivaling not just Blue Sky Studios, not just Dreamworks, but Disney and Pixar. It is breathtaking to see each individual detail. I really wish I could have seen this in 3D. The expressions on the owls themselves are surprisingly emotionally expressive. Hell, seeing the moon blinked owlets’ dead, white eyes and blank expressions and Metal Beak’s dark, evil complexion can even be scary for younger children.

Though it’s nothing spectacular, the acting is pretty good, though Jim Sturgess as Soren sounded a little whiny at times. It’s a pity that the bigger name actors like Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Joel Edgerton, and Hugo Weaving weren’t utilized more.

To kids, the movie will probably be pretty damn amazing. It even has legitimately scary moments that parents may need to be present for, especially if the kids watching are younger than seven. It earns its PG rating by being surprisingly dark and even violent or scary at times, especially for a kids’ movie.

While more screentime for the villains was desperately needed, whenever Metal Beak, Nyra, or even a now-evil Kludd is onscreen, they do command a very real presence and can even be rather threatening. They probably will scare younger children. Had the villains been more developed and given more screentime, they could have been reminiscent of such Disney villains as Maleficent, Scar, or Ursula. If your kids can handle the more intense scenes in any other kids’ movie, they can handle this one.

Zack Snyder undoubtedly has a visual style that is very much his own, but his style seems to be the type that seems to scream, “Notice me! Notice my directing!” His particular visual style, when he isn’t encumbered by oppressively dark superhero material and can embrace a visually bright color scheme, can create some stunning visuals. Though 300 was his orgasm of hyper-stylized violence and gore, Guardians shows that he can do animation, and some of the slow-mo happens at just the right moments. Snyder is very much a visual director. Should I want to make a visually bright movie in the future, I would want him possibly as my director of photography. When this dude gets his visuals right, he gets them right.

Another positive – had the story been given time to properly develop and move at a natural pace, it could have been told surprisingly well. It had a lot to say regarding themes such as courage, unity, loyalty, faith, sacrifice, betrayal, and that the right thing must be done no matter how much it hurts. It really tries to handle these themes with maturity and even dignity. Unfortunately, these themes cannot be properly explored in such an overstuffed plot trying to fit into such a short running time.

There is simply too much plot for a ninety-six-minute movie, especially when so much of the movie deals with spewing out more exposition. We were still getting more well over fifty minutes in. There is so much plot to sift through that we don’t have nearly enough time to settle down and develop the characters. We either have not enough or barely enough time to learn about each individual situation. We don’t spend enough time in Soren’s family’s nest, learning what makes Soren the social everyman and Kludd the jealous brother. We don’t spend enough time at Pure Ones HQ, learning about what makes them tick. We don’t spend enough time on the journey to the Ga’hoole tree. We don’t spend enough time at the tree itself. We don’t spend enough time on the buildup to the big climax. The climax itself is over too quickly. The movie as a whole resolves much too quickly. What made Kludd form such hatred of his brother and quickness to adopt Nazism? How did Soren and Gylfie become such close friends at Pure Ones HQ? What motivates Metal Beak, Nyra, and the Pure Ones to do what they do besides being really, really racist? What brought Twilight and Digger together? What caused Ezylryb / Lyze of Kiel to fall so far from grace after defeating Metal Beak at the Battle of the Ice Claws? The Pure Ones are collecting a bunch of little magnetic metal flecks from the stomachs of mice in owl pellets because when all the flecks are gathered together, they form a giant magnet that shoots out arcs of blue energy that somehow pin owls to the ground. Why? There is actually a reason why, but the movie never even vaguely explains it. Well, it does, but in a sentence or two. Blink and you’ll miss it. The film never pauses to allow you to settle down and collect your thoughts. You could possibly miss a plot point or two. Hey, on the plus side, the movie’s never boring. But the plot moves at such a fast clip when it really should have come in second place in the horse race in which Secretariat won the Triple Crown.

It doesn’t help that the already amazingly rushed and overstuffed story is spotty and unoriginal and contains no surprises. The typical contrived storytelling devices that you see in almost every movie ever are here in abundance. But that further serves to drive the plot farther down. If you write a story depicting the long and perilous journey of one or more main characters, then that story needs to be primarily focused on the journey itself and what happens during it. Lord of the Rings did that wonderfully. But Ga’hoole’s story seemed to not know this. It never settled into a set pattern. The characters made it to their destination and back, not even breaking a sweat, let alone getting hurt unless the script says so.  Another issue: Kludd’s rivalry with and betrayal of Soren had no emotional or dramatic resonance, and served as more of a demand of a plot contrivance rather than a character and his story evolving.

The movie as a whole simply failed to create a large, vibrant, lush, beautiful, expansive world that I could step into in owl form (preferably great horned owl). That just makes me sad, because I very much wanted to like this movie. And I can see a good story in there, but it needs to break free from the oft-seen clichés that drag down every story that uses them and allow itself to have a longer running time, preferably two and a half hours.

The main gimmick of this story is that the characters are owls and that they sometimes talk about and do owl-specific things. But these owls are pretty freaking smart for, you know, being owls. Though owls are definitely smart (I love owls, by the way), I had absolutely no idea that Tyto owls could form a society in the vein of the Third Reich, and the other owls as well as those Tyto owls who did not ascribe to Nazism could form an anti-Third Reich society. I had no idea owls were able to create large makeshift hideouts, especially a large tree fort. I had no idea owls could forge metal helmets and claws, form a writing and numerical system and make books, make fabric, make a blue magnetized nexus that can hurt other owls, and various other materials that I’m pretty sure owls are not smart enough to make. I also had no idea that these two owl societies were also smart enough to go to war and kill each other. Of course, I could make that complaint about every book focused on societies of animals, but that would mean I couldn’t like book series like Redwall and Mistmantle and Warriors.

Overall, Ga’hoole is just another basic, overdramatic, dull fantasy quasi-epic that has plenty of problems but has enough charm to warrant a viewing or two. It simply checks off too many of the typical tropes that we see in everything.

Even the animation has its downside. The character models, though amazing, are a tad dated and a little too wide-eyed. The action sequences, when in dim 3D, suffer from an inability to distinguish Guardian from Pure One. Though I laud the animation team for putting in the effort to create fifteen unique species of owl, the actions scenes render this work meaningless.

The dialogue is stilted, cliché, and not always well written. Whenever the characters had to use archaic or owl-specific dialogue, it could occasionally get really shaky.

It’s too dark and perhaps even too violent for little children, and too rushed, plot-heavy, and stale for older viewers. Anyone expecting to see something reminiscent of Pixar, let alone Bluth or Miyazaki, wil be sorely disappointed. It’s a purely visual experience. The game The Order: 1886 taught gamers that damn near perfect graphics aren’t everything. Ga’hoole is the film equivalent of that. Stellar animation isn’t everything.

Some of this movie’s detractors criticize it for its lack of faithfulness to its source material. But I don’t care. Not only am I reviewing the movie rather than the books, but the point of a film adaptation is so the adaptation can stand on its own. You shouldn’t have to have read the books to enjoy the movie. That’s what made the Harry Potter movies or the Lord of the Rings movies so successful. Though changes were made, they made sense in the films’ universe.

Though I do not think Ga’hoole is a good movie, your children will probably love it. Even if the story doesn’t interest them, they still have a visual feast to behold. While this is definitely a worthwhile way to shut your kids up for ninety minutes, it still holds a lot of merit, it’s one of the better choices of movies to show your kids, and it’s still a satisfying watch. While this movie’s rating will be low, I still have to give it a little respect.

And best of all, I know I will definitely be showing this to my future children, should I ever actually have any.

Final verdict: 2 out of 5 stars.