lights out: kids, here’s how we don’t handle mental illness in horror

stupid movie that no one remembers

So. Here’s the nasty: I think that the way horror treats mental illness and disabled bodies is absolutely atrocious. There’s nothing ‘horrifying’ about a depressed person, or someone living with schizophrenia.

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I especially hate how lazy horror, horror that can’t explain the actions of it’s villains, immediately reach for the ‘disability’ trope to do away with potholes. It’s annoying and lazy. Off the top of my head; Shyamalan’s 2015 film The Visit—in it, two kids spend a week at their grandparent’s house.

At the climax it is revealed that the people they thought were their grandparents were actually ‘crazy escaped mental patients’, who killed their real family members and intended to kill the kids at the end of the week.

The grandmother especially displays certain odd behaviors that seem to coincide with ‘sundowning’, a symptom of Alzheimer’s where the person becomes more confused and agitated at night.

Shyamalan tastelessly uses this phenomena to scare and disturb his audience.

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In the Blumhouse produced film The Darkness, the youngest in a family of four lives with severe autism, and accidentally invites a supernatural presence into his family’s home.

Disturbing things happen, and all are almost immediately blamed on the son; in fact, his parents go so far as to talk about checking him into a facility, because he is too much of a danger.

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I’m rambling, but my main point is that horror as a genre still does not know how to treat disabled characters with respect, and give them their own autonomy in movies.

How do you think Lights Out did with this?

It did bad

So the movie is this; a girl lives away from her estranged mother because the mother has loads of depreshun and mental things and a whole bunch of unexplained crazy.

Suffering from some unnamed mental illness her entire life, Mom (named Sophia) at a young age was checked into an asylum, and met a girl that either had a fear of the sun or more likely, an aversion to light.

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After the doctor’s great idea to flashbang the poor kid (the asylum doctors shine a light at the light-adverse girl), named Diana, she dies, and sticks to the Mom for the rest of her life cause she’s so crazy.

It’s either one, or the other

It’s normal horror antics of screaming, turning lights on and off and running away from things, and at the climax Mom decides to sacrifice herself to save her kids….excuse me, Mom decides to sacrifice herself because god forbid we let this unstable woman get therapy and the help she needs and reconcile with her children.

She’s crazy, so she deserves to die.

It doesn’t help that much of this film is told in the perspective of a frustrated daughter, dealing with a mother that she believed to be absent throughout her early life, and by the time we actually meet Sophia, not a scrap of empathy has been given to the audience towards her.

The information we do get—in the way she interacts with Diana, with the world, with her children—is only tiny bits and pieces, planted so as not to sympathize, but to see her as a weak character, a catalyst for the ghostly apparition haunting her family.

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This movie has two characters with severe mental illness, and both are done in a way that feels dehumanizing. Whereas Sophia is weak and frail and unwilling to fight, the character of Diana, the main antagonist of this film, is just evil.

She was at an institution, and she seemed sort of evil because she had an aversion to the sun that she literally could not control. Never mind the fact that when she died and turned into a spirit, she was a child who had been locked in the basement and burned damn near to ash after doctors thought it would be beneficial to blast some stadium lights in her fucking eyes; nah, she was evil because…she was evil. Idk.

And, honestly, if I went out like that, I think I’d be a little pissed off too.

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It’s like…if you’re not the antagonist, you’re the conduit. Your disability is the thing that puts people in danger. If it can’t be used to invite the evil, then it is the evil. It’s a dichotomy in horror that really needs to be done away with.