Lights Out and Ableism in Horror (Light Spoilers)

Happy Tuesday, Friends! 

I know this post is horrifically overdue seeing as Lights Out was released a whole four days ago. I saw it Saturday and I very much enjoyed it, but there are some problematic elements in this film that I’ve only recently noticed in the genre itself. It doesn’t detract what this or what any film does well, but it needs to be talked about. 

The film starts out in a warehouse of some kind. Within a few minutes of the film, we see the antagonist of the movie, a shadow lurking thing with an unsettling appearance and an even more unsettling propensity of showing up mere feet away from people who’ve just turned the light switch down. This film is a little under 90 minutes, so that action is fast; we have a gruesome kill in the first ten minutes (which really grabbed my attention, so A+ for that one) and within the first half hour, we have an idea of who the protagonists are and the terrifying appertain they face throughout the movie. I thought Diana’s appearances were creative and genuinely scary. The acting was great and I thought the special effects were top-notch. I also liked that they figured out a way to show Diana in her full form, out of the shadows, and that it really added to the terror rather than detracting from it the way reveling a monster or ghost sometimes can. 

Now, here’s where the problems began for me. The family we’re introduced to consists of a mother, her estranged adult daughter, and her young son. The mother, we learn early on, is suffering from depression and (we learn later) spent time in a mental institution where she 

*LIGHT SPOILERS*

met a girl named Diana who later dies and becomes a manifestation of her depression. So here’s my big problem: Diana is described as “evil” by the doctors who treat her (doctors who left conveniently recorded explanations for Diana’s backstory). Diana is hostile and has no qualms about brutally killing those who get in between her and the woman she’s feeding off. Since one could make the argument that the creepy Diana with animal-like claws who only appears in the dark isn’t actually a person, but a representation of a woman’s depression, it’s not inherently ableist to present her as the villain, even thought she spent time in a mental institution. I think this film isn’t as ableist in this way as it is more the fact that the mentally ill person has to die in order to resolve the situation. 

*END OF SPOILERS* 

Walking out of the theatre, I started to think about ableism in the genre as a whole and the fact that some of my favorite and most beloved horror movies are ableist as fuck. Truly, the entire psychotic killer sub-genre is incredibly ableist and I am not proud that it took me this long to figure this out. It became clear to me what I re-watched High Tension with Michael and realized how problematic is. Same goes for every film I love in the “crazy person kills people” category: Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Maniac, and so many more all depict a mentally unsound antagonist(s) murdering people. 

BeFunky Collage

Some troubling tropes of the  mentally ill

My hope is that we can recognize this trope in the genre and move away from it. We can still craft quality slasher films without explicitly presenting the antagonist as “crazy;” Hush, You’re Next, and Cabin in the Woods all come to mind. 

All in all, Lights Out was a generally very enjoyable movie with only a few problematic and cliched elements. I would recommend this one!

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