'Lights Out' Filmmakers Talk Hiding The Monster And Honoring The Short [Wondercon]

While James Wan was at Wondercon presenting his own sequel The Conjuring 2, he also presented a new horror film he produced. Lights Out is based on a Swedish short film of the same name that has garnered over 150 million views online. /Film spoke to the director, David F. Sandberg, producer Lawrence Grey, actor Maria Bello and Sandberg's wife Lotta Losten, who starred in the short and recreated a different version of the two minute scene in the feature film. 

"That's something we wanted right from the start," Sandberg said. "Lotta has to be in the film because it was just her and I that made the short. It was very different from the original. Just little details like that light switch that she uses in the film, it's just a fake Hollywood light switch that doesn't really do anything. So there's movie lights overhead that another guy had to time with her. Every time she pushes the switch, someone else had to turn the lights on. It was just so weird, but it was fun to direct her on a Hollywood set and we could speak Swedish to each other. It would be our secret language."

In the short, Losten awakens from bed and looks into her hall. There's nothing there, but when she turns out the lights, the audiences sees a creepy silhouette. Losten performed a similar scene on a Hollywood set. "It felt fun because it was such a different experience," Losten said. "So much more people there, huge crew."

Losten's scene is there for fans of the short, but Grey assured fans that it's not just the exact same scene as the short. "The opening to the film has an aspect to it that isn't a recreation, but is definitely a tribute to it," Grey said. "Lotta, who stars in the short film, is our director David's wife. She is in that scene. We thought it was really important because it's now nearly 150 million people have seen the short film, to give something back to the fans that love it so much. There's a little bit that reflects on it and I think it eases the audience in and lets us know that we were doing something true to the spirit of the short."

The film stars Teresa Palmer as Rebecca, a woman faced with the same fear of the dark that plagued her as a child. The creature in the dark has a name now, Diana, and she goes back to Rebecca's mother, played by Bello.

"I play Sophie who is the mother of the film, this beautiful, really dysfunctional family," Bello said. "She's suffering from schizophrenia and it's unraveling throughout the film and you're not sure what it is about her friend Diana and how she fits into the picture."

Since Diana only appears in the dark, many of the film's sequences are filmed in very low light. "Really you need less light than you would normally need on a film set," Sanbderg said. "That was something that scared some people on the crew, like, 'We can't keep the movie this dark. People need to see what's going on.' I feel that it's scarier if you don't see everything in frame. If there are big areas of black than anything could be hiding in there. It was more of a fight to keep it with as little light as possible."

Bello herself was impressed with the film's lighting on set. "The lighting was so beautiful," Bello said. "That's one of the reasons we knew the film was going to do really well. We have an incredible DP and then there's David and James Wan. The way it's lit and the light and the dark really gives it a terrifying vibe."

The actor also gave Sandberg credit for focusing on the story as a whole, and trusting the actors do play their parts. Not bad for a first time feature director. "David knew exactly what he wanted and really trusted the actors to do our thing because he never really directed actors," Bello said. "He's never directed a feature film before so it was different in that he wasn't directing actors. This was more directing the whole story. I've worked like that sometimes but I'm always excited at the idea of working with diverse voices, new filmmakers, people who have a vision so I adapt."

In the short, Losten also played Diana, with some Photoshop enhancements to distort her face. In the feature film, Diana is a practical creature model, but don't expect to see her too much.

"Now we could have these Oscar-winning makeup guys do it for real," Sandberg said. "Even so, we made sure to not show too much of her because we want people to get their imaginations going, because that's usually scarier than any rubber suit can be. But when you actually get a glimpse of what she looks like, it's quite different."

Losten still sees a little bit of herself in Diana. "The silhouette is kind of the same," Losten said.

Though Lights Out follows the Jaws philosophy of "don't show the shark," the filmmakers hope Diana can become one of the icons of horror.

"What the creature design in the short really showed us was just how unique and insightful our director's vision is," Grey said. "He did that short for a very, very low budget and we weren't looking to just copy it. What we really wanted to do was to create a whole brand new original horror iconic villain, something that hasn't really been in horror movies since the '70s and '80s. So we spent a lot of time on a character level talking about who she is, what that mythology is, but also on the physical appearance to create something you've never seen before. One of the really unexpected unique choices we made was that we didn't use any CGI. Not CG enhanced, not CG created. We did something practical with a very unique person of body shape and contortionism to just make it that much more creepy."

Lights Out comes to theaters July 22, 2016.