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Lights Out makes mental illness into a villain

The new horror movie Lights Out is terrifying! However, this is one of those rare horror films that can manage to be terrifying and have a heart at the same time. The basic premise revolves around Sophie, a middle-aged mother of two who is a manic depressive, her young son, Martin, and Sophie’s older daughter from a previous marriage, Rebecca. Sophie, who has suffered from depression for most of her life, has this “friend” named Diana who seems to want to only hang out in the dark and, unfortunately, wants to kill off all of Sophie’s family so that she can have Sophie all to herself.

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If you are a fan of horror like I am, you will love this film. It is a cross between the excellent 2013 film Mama and the 2002 film The Ring. What makes this movie so terrifying is that it plays very cleverly on our basic fear of the dark. However, unlike most horror films, this one has a story line that is about something more than the evil entity that poses a physical danger to the characters. It also makes mental illness a secondary foe to the film.

Most depressives can probably relate to Sophie’s feelings of isolation with the blinds in her home always drawn and the lights always out. Depression is a disease that thrives off of isolation and darkness. She has an older daughter (played brilliantly by Teresa Palmer) that she has alienated and pushed out of the house years ago and a much younger son, who is always asking his mom if she has taken her “vitamins.”

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Martin literally jumps at the opportunity to go and live with his older sister because he is afraid to go to sleep in his mother’s home. Rebecca is understandably very concerned about her little brother’s well-being because in addition to Sophie’s dangerous “friend,” she apparently has a history of going off her meds. As someone who has dealt with mental illness in my family, I can relate to Rebecca’s conflict with wanting to love her mother but having to make the decision to walk away for her own sanity, only to be drawn back in because another family member is being adversely affected.

It is worth noting here that Lights Out is based on the equally (probably more) terrifying short film of the same name. Both films were directed by David F. Sandberg, who successfully managed to expand on his short film and keep it just as scary and also manages to address something as important as mental illness with a believable and relatable story line.

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