Written by: Julia Siegel
Everyone either loves or hates horror films, there’s really no in-between. You either enjoy or are terrified of watching your worst nightmares come to life on the big screen. The summer’s next big horror film taps into the one fear that we all share: the dark. I’m sure that at some point in your life, you thought you saw something moving in the shadows or heard an unexplainable whisper in the middle of the night. Lights Out takes being afraid of the dark to a whole new level. Lead actress Teresa Palmer sat down with Elena Medina and me to discuss her gritty new film.
Lights Out centers on Rebecca (Palmer) having to face her deepest, darkest nightmares once again after a spirit, Diana, that once haunted her starts terrorizing her younger brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman). According to Palmer, Diana is tethered to Rebecca’s mother Sophie (Maria Bello) and is triggered by the people who become very close to her. “Rebecca and Diana have always had an aggressive dynamic,” Palmer said. “I think that Diana is a very jealous entity. When anyone gets too close with my mother, she appears.” Palmer went on to explain that Diana feels that Sophie belongs to her and that she should get rid of anyone who is in Sophie’s life, which spells trouble for Rebecca, Rebecca’s boyfriend Bret (Alex DiPersia), stepdad Paul (Billy Burke), and Martin.
One of the things that Palmer loves most about Lights Out is that “…its equal parts a horror film and equal parts a really gritty, raw look at family dysfunction. I love that it’s both things, not just a horror. It’s also so incredibly affecting because it takes this primal, instinctual fear that we all have of the dark and it tells you that you were right to be afraid of the dark because there is something there and there is something scary in the dark.” Being afraid of the dark is something that Palmer also relates to, as she said that she was afraid of the dark up until she started doing sensory deprivation meditation during filming. The process of meditating in the dark has helped heal her fear.
However, she is still afraid of ghosts. Palmer believes that are good and bad ghosts, along with peaceful and unsettled spirits. She’s afraid of unsettled spirits and says that “…the dark energy that comes about is terrifying.” As a fan of the supernatural and horror films, Lights Out was the perfect movie for Palmer to make. “I decided to do this film and genre because I am so interested in ghosts and the supernatural. Everyone who knows me knows that about me,” Palmer said. “But, secondly, I think there is this new wave of horror films that are full of substance and interesting characters, and that to me is what makes it so wonderful and successful because we actually care about who these people are. And, it grounds these films in reality, when there’s this side of it, the supernatural aspect, that a lot of people don’t really believe in, so sometimes it can feel far from being authentic. So, when you have these real characters, and then throw the horror element in, everything suddenly seems much more authentic and real.”
The film should feel real to audiences for two reasons. First, at its core, the story centers on a family’s relationships, which helps to deepen the characters and story. Palmer has many different relationships within the film, but two stood out to her the most. Palmer stated that, “I have this mama bear reaction to Gabriel in the movie, and I loved the dynamic between the two of them. At first, it seems that Rebecca can’t be bothered dealing with her little brother, but then you realize that they’re a beautiful match for each other because he’s seeking solace and healing in her. What she does with him is she finds a way to heal her own traumatic childhood with his experiences. It sort of comes full circle by the end of the movie, and they are good for each other. I’m so glad that at the end of the film they are connected.”
She also enjoyed working with Bello to create a mother-daughter duo. Palmer described Bello’s character Sophie as “a swinging pendulum” who has moments of full mental clarity, then goes completely insane. Sophie and Palmer’s mother suffer from the same mental illness, which is one of the reasons why Palmer related to Rebecca. “My mum also suffers from schizoaffective disorder, so I could see where she was coming from. It’s like we both got to a crossroads, and I went one way and Rebecca went the other way. So, from that experience, it’s really enriched me,” Palmer explained. She also felt that Bello did a fantastic job of portraying Sophie because “she was so subtle in the way that she played schizophrenia on screen. I just loved her nuanced performance and the choices she made. She would touch her fingers and twist her fingers, and I remember seeing that with family members of mine who are mentally ill, like these little ticks that they would do. And, she had all those little ticks, and it felt like she could really get beneath who this character was and portray her in such a real way. It helped me so much in the scenes because I really felt that I was dealing with a mentally ill woman. I loved that!”
Besides the family relationships that most people can relate to, the filmmakers decided to use practical effects to give the film more of an authentic feel. Palmer really enjoyed the practical effects because it allowed the actors to have genuine reactions instead of faking them. Palmer said that the best part was having Diana be on set for every scene. That’s right, Diana is not CGI, she’s a real person. Palmer said that “…sometimes, when she [Diana] would have to come up behind me, they would have her take her own timing. So, I would be crouching down knowing that she was coming, but not exactly knowing when she was going to come. That was a little unnerving… it made our lives a lot easier having her right there in front of us because we had an image to look at, and she really gets under your skin and implants herself there. I certainly know that I brought that image home with me. In the dark, I would see what I thought was a silhouette of Diana, and obviously it wasn’t her. So, it’s smart, it’s really smart filmmaking to do that.”
These realistic situations in the film have also been causing some extreme reactions from test audiences. Palmer laughed as she talked about her first time watching the film, “People were having really visceral reactions. When I saw the movie, in the row behind me, there were guys yelling at the screen, ‘Oh, hell no!’ There was one woman in particular behind me that had a high piercing scream. Everyone was covering their faces and had their legs up on the chairs. It was so nice…It’s really a wild ride.” She hopes that the film will resonate with audiences. She told me that, “Already the reviewers love it, and it’s quite rare for a genre film to have such amazing reviews. So, that’s been very positive and certainly rewarding and is a good sign, but it’s about getting the awareness out there and really encouraging people to come see the movie.”
If the film does well enough, Palmer would love to make a sequel. She hopes that Lights Out will not only scare people, but also show them that there can be more to horror films than jump scares. Are you ready to see how afraid of the dark you really are? Check out Lights Out at a theater near you starting this Friday, July 22nd to see if Diana reignites your childhood nightmares.