Cannes Review: Fabrice Gobert's Lights Out (Simon Werner A Disparu...)

What many critics suspected has turned out to be true: this year's line-up at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival has been disappointing. Many have complained that the films as a whole have been overlong, dark, depressing, and lacking hope. I would tend to agree with most of these criticisms. After a week of searching, I was finally able to find a film that is much more "my speed" than the rest of the selections.

Fabrice Gobert's Lights Out is a film set in a suburban French high school during the early 1990's where a student named Simon Werner has disappeared. Did he run away? Was he abducted? Murdered? The movie begins at a drunken house party, where two teenagers go for a walk and discover a dead body in the woods. Is it Simon's body?

But the story begins ten days earlier, and we see through the perspective of four different characters what happens when kids begin disappearing from the high school. Blood stains are discovered in a class room. What happened? Who is responsible? Could it be a teacher? Everyone at the school has their own theory, which is explored in these fragmented intersecting segments.

Through each perspective, we not only discover more about the disappearances, but we learn more about the students who filled the backgrounds in the previous segments. And through the characters, this film becomes somethign more than your typical teen thriller.

Some people have been comparing the film to Rian Johnson's Brick, but I think that is only because it's a murder mystery that takes place in a high school. It definitely does not have the same film noir stylings/dialogue. I can also see comparisons to Pulp Fiction or Go due to the fractured storytelling narrative, but even those comparisons don't quite fit. The soundtrack is comprised of songs from Sonic Youth, and awesome and fitting choice.

I hope that the producers change the English title of the film to something better. Perhaps reverting back to the French title for the movie: Simon Werner A Disparu... which translates into Simon Werner Has Disappeared. For me, that film title is a lot more interesting and actually tells you something about the film's plot. A movie titled "Lights Out" could be one of a thousand different stories in 40 different genres.

My other complaint about the film might be considered slightly spoilerish. I've always believed that good murder mystery stories introduce the killer early on, and keep the character present but outside of your suspicion. Some, like myself, might find the conclusion of Lights Out a bit of a cheat. That said, the film has a lot more to offer, and doesn't solely hinge on the "big reveal."

I watched the film at a public screening which concluded with a two minute standing ovation for the cast and crew. Lights Out is a thrilling and engrossing entry into the teen film genre, and Hollywood should take note.