Themes of Mental Illness in Upcoming Horror Film in ‘Lights Out’

There is a common but fascinating trope that never seems to die out when it comes to film.





Apart from our apparent 20-year obsession with the Hanks-Ryan pairing, another trend that filmmakers love to play with is the exploration of mental illness in the horror genre. Not a new combination of themes by any stretch, but one that appears again and again in films old and new, and most recently in the upcoming thriller Lights Out.



In this newest effort from director David Sandberg and writer Eric Heisserer, Maria Bello stars as a mother of two who struggles with depression, along with the presence of a destructive supernatural entity that eventually extends its reach to her children. It's interesting to note that, similar to The Babadook, Lights Out could stand on its own without Bello's character having depression, but there is obviously something we find collectively fascinating about the metaphorical link between mental illness and mysterious, usually malicious forces beyond our understanding that are out to destroy what we love. 


"When I read the script I realized that if you took the horror out of it, it’s a stand-alone drama about this family and these complicated relationships due to mental illness," says Bello in a recent interview with the Daily Register. "I was certainly drawn to that. She was a wonderful character to play — a mother suffering from depression, off of her medication, on the verge of a psychotic breakdown, who also has this shadow self that we’re not sure is real. SHE doesn’t even know if it’s real."


Just as The Babadook examined themes of depression manifesting in an actual supernatural entity and the ramifications of how that affects parents and their children (mothers in particular), Lights Out cannot escape creating parallels between mental illness and, well, the monster in the closet: both can be terrifying, pervasive, difficult to understand, and seemingly impossible to destroy. But–fortunately for all of us (and for most horror film characters)–both mental illness and any given ghost/force/poltergeist/demon/momentarily possessed clown doll are never unconquerable.


Lights Out opens in wide release on July 22.





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