Why Are Supernatural Horror Films Like ‘Lights Out’ So Popular?

Horror Films Come In All Shapes And Sizes But We Just Keep Getting Supernatural Jump Scares

Horror works in trends. We get one concept that runs American cinemas for years. The 80’s had the rise of slashers while the 00’s introduced American audiences to J-horror films. Recently, those Japanese ghost stories have influenced a massive paranormal sub-genre that dominates box-offices.

First, ‘Paranormal Activity‘ re-introduced haunted films. Then the genre was taken over by James Wan. Before he was the ghost movie master, he ushered in the torture horror films with ‘Saw’. Ever since then, Wan moved away from gore and became known for his “jump scares” with films like ‘Insidious‘ and ‘The Conjuring‘. His influences can be found over in almost EVERY paranormal film that has come out in the 2010’s.

Lights Out’ is no different.

Producer James Wan and relatively new director David F. Sandberg crafted yet another movie in a long list of haunted horror films. ‘Lights Out‘ originally started as a short film directed by Sandberg that went viral. Facebook pages re-posted it daring viewers to watch; this attention sparked the interest of many producers. Now, Sandberg directed the project on a much larger scale. Sadly, he falls into some tropes that are far too typical within the studio horror system.

Some will say the horror genre is based on cliches. That excuse causes lazy scares. Audiences jump when that loud score strikes and something lunges at you but the terror is superficial. That’s why a strong story needs to be in place to make up for Hollywood faults. ‘Lights Out‘, like many of these horror films, had the jump scares that weakly work but Sandberg’s film was backed by an interesting explanation for the haunting. If only the screenwriters didn’t pile on so much useless exposition.

“You were right to be afraid of the dark.”

I believe the simple scares are what attracts people to these types of films. With the real-world being so cruel, films tinged with reality scare people off. These supernatural boogeymen save viewers from the real things that go bump in the night. I personally loved to be challenged on a deeper level in horror films. Pieces like ‘Neon Demon‘ and another 2016 standout ‘The Shallows‘ scared me beyond some simple jumps. You carry the terror dealt with in the films long after the credits.

I’m thankful that this is one of the rare original horror films and not a franchised project but I can’t help but feel ‘Lights Out‘ blends into the other supernatural films like this year’s ‘The Conjuring 2‘. I’m a minority in my feelings towards the sub-genre. As of now, Sandberg’s film is sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with little negative feedback. Compare that to the 51% on a film that I believe is far superior, ‘Neon Demon‘, and you can see my confusion on the beloved status of films like ‘Lights Out‘. Only thing they have in common in some serious Dario ArgentoSuspria‘-inspired cinematography.

Horror FilmsIt will be interesting to see if ‘Lights Out‘ makes their small budget back and grab sequel buzz. The story seemed fairly contained and ended on a VERY definitive note BUT studios can always squeeze the most out of any idea. I’m not against more supernatural films, especially if they are all handed with this raw style of a new director, but studios like Warner Bros. needs to back more than just one type of horror. The audiences deserves more and so do the artist creating the films.

“Whether it’s a popcorn movie or some really intellectual sociopolitical movie, I think to some degree they’re all influenced by the social climate that we’re living in.”
James Wan

We are in a time where our horror needs to reflect our times. It’s been a duty of the genre long before ‘Night Of The Living Dead‘ was a social commentary on race. If the Hollywood studio system wants to keep pumping out these ghost movies year after year, the viewers will never get the chance to deal with real horror. Sure, we get one or two genre pieces that are different but mainstream audiences are only treated to the lowest common denominator in horror.

When will we get another revolution in horror films? Before that, when will supernatural films start to decline with critics & viewers? I believe the sub-genre will be around for a few more years as James Wan is producing two films next year: ‘Annabelle 2‘ and ‘Insidious Chapter 4‘.  As he leaves the horror genre for bigger pieces like ‘Furious 7‘ and the upcoming ‘Aquaman‘, who will replace him as the leader of modern horror? Creators like Adam Wingard and Fede Alvarez could lead their pack with their inventive edgy films. We also could see deeper horror films to provoke audiences.

How do you feel about supernatural horror films?

Let me know in the comments below!

Lights Outs‘ hits theaters July 22, 2016.

EJ Moreno
EJ Morenohttp://Vimeo.com/EJMoreno
Who is EJ Moreno? Is he a trained physician? No. Is he a former Miss Universe contestant? Possibly. With a bachelors degree in film and a love of pop culture, he brings an alternative view to the world of pop culture journalism. Follow him on Twitter @EJKhryst and check out his film work at Vimeo.com/ejmoreno