How 'Lights Out' Swaps Stereotypical Gender Roles & Completely Pulls It Off

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After wasting essentially zero time in scaring the crap out of audiences,  Lights Out brings viewers to a grungy yet weirdly charming apartment decorated with skeleton cartoons, Avenge Sevenfold posters, and the occasional side-table bong. Only this isn’t the apartment of a low-life rocker dude or angsty twenty-something who thinks the world doesn’t “get” him, as prior movie tropes would have us believe. It’s an apartment owned by Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), a delicate blonde with a hard exterior whose boyfriend — although she has a difficult time calling him that — begs her to let him leave just one sock at her place to stake his claim. Seeing Rebecca as a young, noncommittal female, while rare, doesn’t feel cheesy or questionable; it feels like reality.

Rebecca’s refusal to label her relationship or commit herself to anything too serious is inviting and refreshing, right off the bat. Sure, there have been a few examples of females taking on the stereotypical male role in Hollywood, such as Samantha in Sex and the City and Amy Schumer’s  Trainwreck character. But not only are these roles few and far between, no one would expect such a character to fill the typical damsel-in-distress role, especially in a horror film.

In one of the opening scenes, as she paces around the apartment while her boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) thinks up his sock plot, Rebecca realizes she’s been with him longer than she realized and throws in a “I’m only seeing you” line. Thus, audiences realize Rebecca’s commitment issues run deep and the line is immediately drawn between damaged and promiscuous. Palmer herself had a say in the way her character would come across. “Her damage hasn’t manifested itself in a way where she’s promiscuous. That was important for me, I didn’t want straight off the bat for her to appear a certain way,” the 30-year-old actress says. The film’s screenwriter Eric Heisserer explains Palmer’s influence on Rebecca, saying, “Teresa [was] like, ‘Look, I don’t want to make it sound like he’s just guy number 12.’”

Not that there would be anything wrong with that, but there’s rhyme and reason for the carefully-constructed character. Quickly we learn about the complicated relationship between Rebecca and her estranged mother Sophie (Maria Bello), who were driven apart due to Sophie’s mental health history, particularly “Diana,” the demon haunting her and her children. For Palmer, who had her own struggles growing up with a mom who suffered from mental illness (schizophrenia), it was important to explain why Rebecca is the way she is.

“I wanted people to understand that she’s just quite broken, she’s a broken bird from the start,” says Palmer. “It’s lovely to follow her journey actually, where she starts and by the end of it, she’s just really cracked open and there’s a really beautiful healing that happens for her.” Heisserer explains that Rebecca’s fear of commitment was completely purposeful and inspired by women in his life. “Family members and friends, people that I know who’ve come from a very traumatic childhood, a lot of them have commitment issues. If they have to survive something, it’s easier for them to not make any ties to anybody else because that comfort is typically a warning sign that something terrible is going to happen later,” he says. “Her reluctance to have a relationship with Bret is born out of that.”

And not to spoil anything, but Bret sticks around for a long time. Like, through lots and lots and lots of sh*t. While Palmer’s character is a portrayal of the classic can’t-commit man, DiPersia’s is that of the all-too-familiar “clingy” girlfriend, holding out with everything they have so their significant other will actually stick around. DiPersia shamelessly embraces his character, and says he’s been in Bret’s shoes many times in real life — perhaps more than he’d even prefer. “Yes I could [be that patient], I have,” he says. He jokingly says he needs to move forward making “smart decisions,” and not wind up with yet “another Rebecca.” When asked if he’s ever had a sock thrown back at him in real life, he replies: “More than a sock.”

Director David Sandberg (who created the  Lights Out short which inspired the film), explains how Rebecca’s role and the story’s additional female leads were intentional in more ways than one. “There are so many male-centric movies, so why not star females?,” he says. “I wanted to sort of play with that as well, to have Bret be this sort of more of the typical female character, who’s a bit clingy and wants this relationship. We need to mix it up a bit.”

And mixing up these gender complexes they are — even in real life.

While promoting the film, star Maria Bello explains how genuinely thrilled she is for females to be taking the narrative back in Hollywood. “[I’m] all about women in front of and behind the camera,” she says. “Our old financial method is to do international sales, and that always depends on some white guys, movie star actors. But not anymore, it’s changing.”

As for Palmer? She plans to keep kicking total ass as a working mom, climbing her way through Hollywood and snagging those lead roles. “It’s been a very busy couple of years. I realized I’ve done nine films in the last two years,” the actress (who’s pregnant) says. “It really works out. I still get to be a mother and balance my work.”

Urban legends may never be in the past, but luckily, gender stereotypes are starting to be.

Images: Warner Brothers (5)