In his major directorial debut, director David F. Sandberg unleashes upon the world Lights Out , a supernatural horror film that is releasing this weekend. The film, based on a 2013 short film of the same name, stars Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Billy Burke and Maria Bello. Excerpts from my conversation with Sandberg:
It’s a great idea to draw from the primal fear of the dark for your horror film,
Thanks. When my friends and I, who have worked on short films before, decided to do a feature film, we asked ourselves what frightens people? Say, those living in an apartment. We agreed it was the darkness, the unknown. When the lights are switched off in their apartment at night, and they are surrounded by darkness, the fear that there may be somebody lurking in the dark… We played with that idea. There is usually nobody hiding in the shadows, but what if there was somebody there?
Having made short films previously, did you experience a loss of freedom in making your Hollywood debut?
Your question reminds me of the time I told my crew that I wanted pitch-black darkness in the film, as opposed to ‘Hollywood darkness’, which is slightly blue in colour. I also insisted that I wanted to shoot certain scenes in candlelight even though that isn’t the usual practice. The crew wasn’t convinced, but producer James Wan helped me make the film as I envisioned it. So, I did end up getting what I wanted.
The director with actress Teresa Palmer
The evil character in the film, Diana , comes with a back story. Doesn’t embodying evil like that remove the element of the unknown that is so key to inducing fear?
Well, we knew we needed a back story. It’s only expected from a Hollywood movie, after all… but we didn’t do it as a compromise. The story structure is what it is.
As for Diana, I was keen that she not be a CGI creature. The physical presence of the character is useful in more ways than one. For instance, it helps other actors react more realistically.
I liked that Diana is quite athletic, which is quite unusual for an evil spirit.
We wanted her to be an athletic, animalistic, ferocious creature. Originally, our plan was to cast one actress to play the role, and have another for the stunts. But stunt artiste, Alicia Vela-Bailey, was so energetic; she could do so many things with her body that I decided to just cast her for the whole part. It’s all her.
Also, it was unusual to avoid killing off the supporting character, Bret.
(Laughs) Yes, that’s a character that usually gets taken out, doesn’t it? I’ve seen how people react to such characters in horror films. “Oh, no, this character’s gonna die!” That’s why I thought we should make him a capable man, and let him survive. The audience loves being surprised like that.
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