ByGrant Hermanns, writer at
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Grant Hermanns

Amidst grandiose exorcisms, haunted homes and forests with no intentions of letting visitors leave, 2016 was quite the year for the horror genre, featuring a number of stellar entries along with a few stinkers. But out of all the horror films released this year, there was one that shined out amongst the rest: Lights Out. Check out the trailer for the terrifying horror film:

If you thought the trailer was chilling, you should watch the movie. There are a number of reasons why this movie was such an entertaining frightfest, but only a few reasons why this movie was the most groundbreaking horror film this year.

Short Film Origin

Hollywood is no stranger to remaking or adapting things from the past, including books, TV shows, even old movies. But something that may go unnoticed is how many original movies have their start as short films, particularly in the horror genre — Evil Dead and Saw spring to mind.

However, the short upon which Lights Out is based is unique in how it became popular and how it earned Warner Bros.' attention. Swedish director David F. Sandberg — well-known for making a multitude of no-budget short horror films that often feature his wife Lotta Losten — wrote and directed the short to be entered in a film competition, hoping to win any monetary awards, as he and Losten were in debt at the time of making the short, Sandberg told Forbes.

Though the short didn't win the overall competition, Sandberg did win the "Best Director" award. Around the time they entered the competition, they uploaded it through Sandberg's professional YouTube account and the short film quickly went on to become a viral sensation, accumulating millions of views.

This led to a number of phone calls from Hollywood agents, one of whom was Lawrence Grey, who wanted to collaborate with famed horror director James Wan (The Conjuring, Insidious) to produce a feature length adaptation of the short, the couple told horror site Daily Dead in an interview.

Upon arriving in Hollywood, the couple had to rent an Airbnb on a monthly basis for a little over three months due to having no credit in America before finally being able to get an apartment for themselves. Sandberg had to learn on the fly how to properly direct a film set and tell the story he wanted to with only the $5 million budget given to him by the studio.

Sandberg and Lotsen's story of getting to Hollywood in itself is groundbreaking, but seeing the film's transition from a short made on no budget to a low-budget studio production thanks to its viral success is astonishing and speaks volumes to how unique the short itself was. Here's the original short film for your viewing (and terrified) pleasure:

Effective Blend Of Story And Shocks

Before making a horror film, the toughest part going into it is trying to come up with a good story to back up the initial idea. However, horror films often struggle to blend an effective story to back up their ideas for how to scare audiences, resulting in either a dull-minded movie, an un-scary movie, or in some cases both. Lights Out is one of the few movies in recent horror history to expertly blend a moving story with some genuinely terrifying shocks.

The film follows Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), a young woman who tries to take care of her brother (Gabriel Bateman) and help his insomnia following the death of his dad/her stepfather (Billy Burke) and their mother (Maria Bello)'s descent into madness. However, the imaginary figure their mother is talking to turns out to be more real than any of them are prepared for, attacking them in the shadows due to a weakness to light.

The back story of why the creature is attacking the family is pretty well-written, but it's the drama around the events that truly illustrates the film's solid storytelling. The movie does a great job of including Diana in the story as both a terrifying villain and an important piece to the dysfunctional family puzzle.

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I don't know which 2016 horror villain to call the most terrifying: Diana or The Nun/Valak from The Conjuring 2. They were both such compelling and horrifying villains all throughout each film, effectively terrorizing both the audience and the characters in the film. Though The Nun used some methods of haunting the Warrens had not seen too often in past movies, Diana is one of the more rare and unique horror villains seen in a long time.

Her character's general design is very reminiscent of the titular supernatural creature from the 2013 horror film Mama (coincidentally also based on a short film), but she also outdoes Mama in being a mostly undefined character whose illuminated eyes and terrifying shadow are enough to make audiences want to sleep with the lights on for a solid week after watching the movie.

Stylish Direction

In addition to having a good story to back up the terror, one of the most important elements in making a horror film is having a director who knows how to stylishly deliver the scares to audiences by combining cinematography, visual effects and editing to enhance the fear level.

Even though the feature-length adaptation was Sandberg's first ever stuio film, having directed and edited the short this is based on gave him an upper hand on how to properly capture Diana's movements and sudden vanishing upon full-on light sources being turned on. In addition, Sandberg also did a wonderful job of racking up the tension and style by featuring a number of angled shots that never felt gratuitous or unnecessary.

Plus, the fact that a first-time director was able to put together a feature-length journey with only $5 million based on a scary concept from his short film just proves Sandberg is going places in Hollywood. Thanks to the critical and commercial success of the film, Sandberg is now one of the biggest horror directors in the industry, being hired by Warner Bros. to helm the sequel to The Conjuring-prequel-spinoff, Annabelle, as well as getting the greenlight from the studio to co-write and direct the sequel for Lights Out.

Lights Out is currently available on Blu-Ray, DVD, Digital HD and Amazon Prime.

(Sources: Forbes, Daily Dead)

Did you enjoy Lights Out? Was it also your favorite horror movie of 2016, or was there another? Let us know in the comments below!


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