Authors Posts by Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding
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Road work will begin in Port Jefferson and will continue for the next four months as PSEG will strengthen the area’s electrical grid. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Last month, contractors from PSEG Long Island started work on what’s planned to be an eight-month-long project in Rocky Point that will strengthen the electrical grid and harden the system to better combat extreme weather on Long Island.

The project route covers three miles along an electric main line circuit, with crews working on several streets including Hallock Landing Road and Rocky Point Landing Road.

This project is part of an ongoing effort by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to improve electrical infrastructure to protect against future storm damage and help restore power faster. Rocky Point is among a long list of routes being worked on in the Town of Brookhaven.

The project’s $729,000,000 in funds was secured in 2014 through an agreement between Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program, which helps communities implement hazard mitigation measures following a major disaster declaration.

The project will replace existing wire with more weather-resistant wire, install new and more durable poles in several locations, and install or replace switching equipment to help reduce the number of customers affected by an outage, according to the official PSEG website.

“By putting in the storm-hardened equipment, the stronger wires, and the more weather-resistant poles, it will help to reduce the number of customers affected during a storm,” said Elizabeth Flagler, PSEG Long Island’s media relations specialist. “So when we get the high winds, the equipment will hold up better.”

“By putting in the storm-hardened equipment, the stronger wires, and the more weather-resistant poles, it will help to reduce the number of customers affected during a storm.”

—Elizabeth Flagler

After Hurricane Sandy and the following winter storm in 2013, many of the areas being worked on in Rocky Point were among the longest without power on the North Shore — some homes were dark for up to 10 days. Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who lives in Rocky Point, experienced the extensive power outages firsthand. She said that many people will benefit when the work is completed.

“In a perfect world … we won’t experience another storm like Superstorm Sandy, and we’ll never know if this was needed,” Bonner said. “But the prevailing opinion is that there were a host of reasons why so many people were without power, and PSEG is addressing these reasons. There were major health concerns for people to not have power that long … sanitary concerns; elderly and infirmed people that needed power that don’t have generators; we have concerns with long-term use of generators; so, if we can keep the power going, it’s a good thing.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) took over his post a month after Hurricane Sandy hit. He said that in his first few weeks in office he was overwhelmed trying to recover from all of the damage it caused.

“All poles and wires were down, water was about knee high throughout all the streets, if not higher, and obviously, you want to be able to withstand the next storm,” he said.

He hopes that with these improvements, if and when a next storm were to hit, the damage would be minimal.

“The recovery time won’t be that long,” he said. “And the financial damage will be limited.”

Romaine did, however, suggest that PSEG bury wires to further minimize damage.

“Costs for burying wires is about the same that you would pay to recover from a series of storms in a 30-year period,” he said. “It’s more costly in the short run, but in the long run there’s no difference, and you will be much better protected by buried wires.”

Trees that grow near power lines will be trimmed when necessary, as they increase the chances of power outages and pose safety risks. The new poles will be about the same height as existing poles but will have a stronger base and be placed about 2 to 3 feet from the current pole locations.

PSEG representatives say that they anticipate minor traffic interruptions, as well as some localized, short-duration power outages related to the project. The crews will generally work Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with limited evening and Sunday work.

District hires outside company to gather community input

Community residents speak up about what characteristics they're looking for in a new superintendent for the Shoreham-Wading River school district. Photo by Kevin Redding

Shoreham-Wading River turns to the community for guidance in its nationwide search for a permanent replacement for outgoing Superintendent Steven Cohen, who retired over the summer after holding the position for five years.

On Monday night, Bob Freier and Joann Kaplan of District Wise Search Consultants led a community forum at Shoreham-Wading River High School to gauge the public’s opinion on what kind of characteristics and credentials they seek in the district’s next full-time superintendent, a position the district aims to fill by July 1 of next year.

Currently, the district has an interim superintendent in Neil Lederer, who took on the job in August and signed a 10-month contract that ends June 30. The school’s district clerk said Lederer has made no comments in regards to applying for the full-time superintendent position himself, but that it’s a “moot point” as the board of education has hired the superintendent search committee and is now actively looking for someone new.

Joann Kaplan and Bob Freier of District Wise Search Consultants led a community forum at Shoreham-Wading River High School to gauge the public’s opinion on what kind of characteristics and credentials they seek in the district’s next superintendent. Photo by Kevin Redding
Joann Kaplan and Bob Freier of District Wise Search Consultants led a community forum at Shoreham-Wading River High School to gauge the public’s opinion on what kind of characteristics and credentials they seek in the district’s next superintendent. Photo by Kevin Redding

When the question was raised by a member of the community forum as to why Cohen — who is currently serving as interim assistant superintendent at Sachem Central School District — left Shoreham-Wading River, Freier and Kaplan said the reason was unknown.

The search consultants explained that the two major factors that play a role in superintendents leaving are money and the changing of school boards. But taking on interim positions is quite common when somebody retires, said Kaplan. Usually if they’re not quite ready to stay home full-time, they serve as interim until a district gets back on its feet.

At that, the room full of parents was in complete agreement that the district should try to find somebody who’s “not retiring.”

“The purpose of this conversation is to get your feedback,” Freier said. “As parents, what do you think are some of the important characteristics that you’re looking for in the next superintendent of the school district?”

Those in attendance were vocal that whoever serves as educational leader in the district should be well-versed in New York State’s political climate, the Annual Professional Performance Review, Common Core, and state testing. The parents also said they’re looking for someone who is organized on a business level, considering they’ll be in charge of a school budget of roughly $60,000,000; has classroom experience; and has climbed the ladder from teacher to administrator. The parents also stressed thinking out of the box and being creative, and most importantly, they want someone who has students’ best interests — and not the superintendent’s own — in mind.

“I guess we’re saying we want everything,” said Chris Blake, from Shoreham.

He said it’s important that the next superintendent has an overall appreciation of the environment he or she is in, and has a good relationship with the community.

“I think it’s very important that we’re not looking at curriculum, standards and tests … that we’re really looking at what kids need and what’s best for kids.”

— Jeannine Smith

“It’s very important to make the community feel comfortable with you … to be able to approach you,” Blake said. “Not come in and just have one message and then the curtain closes and we’re just waiting for the next appearance.”

Blake said the district has had that happen in the past.

“They should be vested in the district,” he said. “It’s not just a stop-over and come in with all these preconceived notions on how they’re going to do things.”

Jeannine Smith, from Shoreham, said she wants someone who puts the kids first.

“I think it’s very important that we’re not looking at curriculum, standards and tests … that we’re really looking at what kids need and what’s best for kids,” Smith said. “I want my children to go to school every day and have teachers know that they can do what they need to do to get them from one point to another. I want that flexibility.”

Freier and Kaplan told the forum that as a company, they don’t intend on rushing to find just anybody who will take the position. The two said that they take the community’s feedback very seriously. They will even use it to shape the questions that will ultimately be asked to candidates in preliminary interviews for the position.

“We’re not just filling a position … we’re finding the right person for Shoreham-Wading River,” said Kaplan. “Meeting with all of you is crucial.”

If you have any input on characteristics or qualities for the next Shoreham-Wading River superintendent, contact District Wise Search Consultants at shorehamwrsup@districtwisesearch.com.

Dr. Harold Fernandez is one of the world's leading cardiac surgeons. Photo from CAC

By Kevin Redding

There is perhaps no one on Long Island whose story encapsulates the American Dream better than Huntington resident Harold Fernandez, who fled drug-and-murder-ridden Colombia when he was 13 years old; charted through the treacherous waters of the Bermuda Triangle; came into the U.S. not speaking a word of English; worked hard in school; gained admission to Princeton University; graduated from Harvard Medical School; got married and helped raise two children; and ultimately rose to the top of his profession as a cardiac surgeon, currently working at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.

But his journey to the operating room was one of constant fear. As an undocumented immigrant, Fernandez had broken countless immigration laws by the time he arrived at Princeton. The secret he had harbored his whole life was about to be revealed and potentially undo everything he had achieved for himself and his family and send him back to Colombia.

Harold Fernandez, left, with his brother Byron with the Statue of Liberty in the background.
Harold Fernandez, left, with his brother Byron with the Statue of Liberty in the background.

Fernandez’s compelling and inspiring story is the focus of a new documentary titled “Undocumented.” Based on his memoir of the same name, the documentary will have its world premiere screening at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 6 p.m. (sold out) and 8:15 p.m. The film will be followed by a Q-and-A with filmmakers Patricia Shih and Greg Blank, as well as Fernandez himself.

Shih, a professional local musician who had no prior experience in filmmaking, read the book cover to cover and knew right away that the story needed to be translated to film, not only because of its cinematic themes of danger, suspense and eventual triumph but because its message rang especially true today.

“Harold’s story … puts a human face on the abstract issue of immigration,” she said. “When the presidential election started, there was a lot of hateful rhetoric by one of the candidates about immigration, and specifically racial and religious discrimination. I’m hoping that [the film] will move people enough so that some hardened positions will soften. I can’t stress enough how amazing his story is.”

As an Asian woman whose own father was one of only 105 Chinese immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. in 1945 as a result of the Magnuson Act, Shih considers this an extremely personal topic. She hopes to combat the ever-increasing violence, racism and xenophobia that surrounds the issue of immigration with the film’s telling of Fernandez’s incredible life.

And incredible it is.

When he and his 11-year-old brother Byron left Medellín, Colombia, in 1978, Fernandez hadn’t seen his parents for years. They had already moved to the U.S. to escape poverty, working in embroidery and clothing factories and struggling to make ends meet in West New York, New Jersey, with the hopes that one day they would earn enough money to be reunited with their children. His parents arranged for the two of them to be smuggled in, and so began their dangerous voyage to freedom.

Fernandez, his brother and a dozen other immigrants huddled in a small boat that seemed to constantly be on the verge of splitting in half as the harsh sea raged on in the thick of hurricane season. When he finally arrived in New Jersey, Fernandez was at a complete disadvantage, needing to learn a new language and catch up with his classmates academically. However, he saw how much his parents struggled to put food on the table and understood that the only way he would get ahead in life would be through a good education, and so he buckled down and devoted himself to his studies.

Fernandez became valedictorian in his high school class and was accepted to Princeton with flying colors, determined to help people through medicine. However, this is when his undocumented status came back to haunt him. The documentary explores how Fernandez overcame the very real threat of being deported and wound up where he is today.

As Shih had never tackled a film before, let alone a feature-length film, she approached Push Pause video journalist Greg Blank to see if he would help make this dream project a reality. It didn’t take much to persuade him to get on board.

Much like Shih, Blank had become extremely immersed in Fernandez’s memoir and thought that a lot of people would relate to his story on different levels. The two launched a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to crowd fund the film in April, wound up exceeding their cost goal, and with a final budget of roughly $20,000, shot and edited the documentary in five months — all under the complete cooperation and encouragement of Fernandez, who even contributed large quantities of footage when he visited his old neighborhood, school and home in Colombia this year.

The film features interviews with Fernandez’s parents, a professor of his from Princeton, as well as two former patients who say they owe their lives to him as a result of emergency open-heart surgeries, among others. The bulk of it was shot in Huntington, said the filmmakers, with segments in New Jersey and Princeton.

“This is the quintessential American story,” said Blank. “I hope people can see that it’s not just the story of Harold and one person succeeding in this country, but an entire family coming [here] and making the most of it, and really contributing.”

For Fernandez, seeing his story make its way to the big screen is really exciting. He said it’s an opportunity to show people that most immigrant families in this country are regular people who have dreams and are looking for ways to contribute to the American way of life. “I’ve been so blessed to be able to make my dream come true,” said Fernandez. “but I think that most immigrants that come here are really looking for simple things — living with dignity, just being able to work — and I think that’s what my story really portrays. And the main thing that I remember coming here to America was not really the excitement of coming [here] as much as just the desire to be together as a family again.”

Fernandez continued, “I think it’s one of the tragedies of the whole immigration issue right now. You have all these families apart, so I think the idea of being together again as a family was the most important part at the time.”

The Cinema Arts Centre is located at 423 Park Ave., Huntington. Admission is $16, $11 members. A premium admission of $22, $17 members, includes a wine and cheese reception. For more information, please call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.com.

Michael and Cindy Rawdin, Dix Hills residents, said they support Hillary Clinton for president. Photo by Kevin Redding

As Long Island residents get ready for election day next week, some are certain for whom they will cast their ballot, and others are still undecided.

sarahleanzaportjeffwSarah Leanza, Port Jefferson

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: Clinton. Not because I necessarily trust her like anybody else, but because he’s [Trump] a misogynist, crazy … I think he’s horrific. I’m a little nervous about her, but I think she has a lot of experience at least, and I think what is wonderful is Trump has created a situation that’s going to make her make sure she’s accountable. I think she’s going to have to be very careful while she’s in office because there are so many people behind him who are so angry, so that makes me trust her situation better. He was like a necessary evil, I think.

Roe Waltmann, Coramroewaltmanncorame

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: I like Trump. I think he’s very gung-ho and I really believe that he can do the things he says he can do — unless I’m naïve. But I don’t want Hillary Clinton; I don’t want a politician. I want somebody with new blood that’s not a politician.

Now, he’s become a politician along the way without him realizing, but I really think he can energize [the country, but] if he doesn’t get the Republican Senate he’s not going to do too much.

Even though in his mind he’s saying he could, he can’t. And my family wants Trump too because they want somebody new, and that’s how we all feel. I think he’s so energetic and he can revitalize things, and I know he’s going to surround himself with good people. But he should keep his mouth closed sometimes.

ericcorleyportjeffw

Eric Corley, Port Jefferson

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: Clinton, because she knows what she’s doing, and there may be some stuff I don’t agree with — probably a lot of stuff — but you have to think of all the people that are going to be brought in as a result of a Clinton administration as opposed to the people who would be brought in with a Trump administration. You look at all the things that have changed over the last eight years, not all of which are good, but so much has changed and that’s all the result of who we elected. We have to think beyond the personalities and beyond whatever is in the media, so that’s why I think it’s an easy choice.

Tommy Parris, Port Jeffersontommyparrisportjeffw

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: I actually truly haven’t decided yet. I mean, I was leaning more toward Trump initially. There’s not enough accurate information out there; a lot of the stuff that they’re putting out there is very vague, very generic. They’re not being too specific in their campaigns. Everyone’s spoon feeding everybody what they want to hear. They’re basically telling them “Oh yeah, we’re going to make more money, we’re going to fix the economy.” It’s all slogans and sales pitches. And coming from someone in sales, you can see right through that. What’s the plan that goes beyond that?

I like the fact that although Trump is not as delicate as he should be or as sensitive with the way he uses his words, he’s more transparent in the sense that you know who you’re dealing with for better or worse, so you can kind of know what to expect. With Hillary, she’s more quiet, cunning; you really don’t know much what’s going on. She’s a better politician when it comes down to it. I think it would be good to have a Republican state of mind back in the office just to kind of balance things out.

raymonddiazmountsinaieRaymond Diaz, Mount Sinai

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: Donald J. Trump, because of the political corruption and the political correctness with Hillary. It just kills me all the scandals and all the people covering up for her; it’s horrible. Trump says some mean things but would you rather have someone say a bunch of horrible things to your face and be your friend or talk behind your back? Oh, it makes me sick. I am such a die-hard Trump fan, and it’s not that I love Trump. We just need change. All the corruption in the government, and she’s just a liar.

Trump’s not the best guy in the world, but even if he does a horrible job, what’s wrong with wiping out the government for four years? Getting all the corrupt people out and starting from scratch.

mikebarbamalvernewMike Barba, Malverne

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: I’m actually voting for Gary Johnson, just because I don’t agree with Hillary [Clinton] on matters, and I don’t think Trump has enough political experience for it. He just talks a little too much for my liking, so I’ll be doing the alternative independent vote.

Although Gary Johnson had some slipups on his foreign policy, I still think there should be more than a two-party system in the country. In the United Kingdom, they have more than two, as well as a few other countries.

When conservatives and liberals are so far left and far right, it’s nice to have more of a middle ground and somebody who’s more bipartisan on a bunch of matters. Even though the independents realistically won’t win — him or Jill Stein — I think there will be enough independent votes that it will be a little more eye-opening for the country in general just to see “wow, maybe there should be a third candidate to be putting in.”

michaelcindyrawdinphotowMichael and Cindy Rawdin, Dix Hills

Q: Who are you voting for?

Michael: I’d only vote for Clinton. I know she’s imperfect but I would never dream of voting for [Trump] because I know him personally and he’s a disgraceful human being. I owned a website, GoTrump.com, that we opened in January 2006. We had it for 3 years with that “lovely” man. His staff was great, he was disgraceful … always.

Cindy: We brought him into the online travel industry. He wasn’t it in then in 2006. But because of his greed as well, we did not make a lot of money because Trump cut the biggest piece of pie for himself. We really know that Clinton is the brightest and most sophisticated and most experienced, and she’s an elitist. She’s intelligent.

Michael: She actually knows what she’s speaking about. The other one is faking it at all times. He didn’t even prep for the debates, which I found truly amazing. People are so desperate for change that they’ll vote for a psychopath. He’s really quite sick. The stupid things he says, the idiotic way he reacts, the fact that he screwed thousands of little guys out of their money. They’d go work at the Taj Mahal and just get screwed. He’s so unfit to be anything but a… make believe billionaire. He’s just a fraud.

craigmarcottwCraig Marcott, Huntington

Q: Who are you voting for?

A: It’s really an election of the perceived lesser of two evils in this case. My vote will be on the Republican ticket because I think he’s the lesser of the two evils in this one. It’s been incredible. Right down to the end, they’re just not stopping, between the email stuff on one side, the stuff on him on the other side. They’re two of the most defective candidates we’ve ever had. I’m voting more for the philosophy and for the Supreme Court justices. I don’t think our country can handle two more liberal Supreme Court justices that will rule the country for the next quarter of the century.

Amy Hagedorn worked with Middle Country Public Library

After teaching, Amy Hagedorn continued to dedicate her life to helping others. Photo from Darren Sandow

By Kevin Redding

Amy Hagedorn, whose generosity and activism as co-founder of the Hagedorn Foundation, provided millions of dollars for children, families and immigrants across Long Island, died Sept. 8 after a lengthy battle with lymphocytic leukemia at her home in Floral Park, surrounded by her family. She was 79.

Hagedorn was called an incredibly strong, passionate and kind-hearted person by family and friends, who said she dedicated her life and wealth to making an impact on a wide variety of groups and causes. She deeply cared for others, especially those who were in low places, and was hands-on with everything within her foundation and fund up until her final days.

Born Amelia Maiello in a small apartment in Queens in 1936, she had a humble upbringing. Her mother — a first-generation immigrant from Italy — struggled with poverty her whole life. Hagedorn understood that every cent counted. She was an accomplished student who went to Jamaica High School and went on to graduate from Baruch College. Even with college costing $15 a semester, money was tight. For years, she struggled financially as a single mother of four — having to juggle parenting, a house in Great Neck that constantly needed repairs and a job as a preschool teacher at a number of schools, ultimately Hillside Grade School in New Hyde Park. But she never let it be known. She loved teaching and brought a certain serenity to her classroom.

Longtime friend and fellow pre-school teacher Anna-Marie Quinlan said that she had a very caring and respectful way of treating children that was different from a lot of teachers.

“She was a very gentle, serene person. For all that she did, she was just always easy to be with.”

— Anna-Marie Quinlan

“Amy brought security and calm into their lives,” Quinlan said. “She was always very careful about the way she set things up to them; they were set up to be accomplished and they learned how to be successful in that small manner. When she was a teacher, she was a team member and those are the kinds of things I appreciated about her. She was a very gentle, serene person. For all that she did, she was just always easy to be with.”

In the mid-1980s, Hagedorn began the transition to being an activist for many people on Long Island, by writing a singles ad in a weekly newspaper. She sought a “warm-hearted man with a cool head and charming manner” who would share in her yearning for romance, love of reggae and dreams of sailing.” Recent widower Horace Hagedorn — the born-wealthy marketing genius behind the hugely popular Miracle-Gro gardening product — responded, and in 1986 the two were married. They couldn’t have come from more differing backgrounds, but for the first time in her life, Amy Hagedorn was in possession of a great deal of wealth. But she wasn’t about to spend it on yachts or jewelry. Instead, she was adamant to give it to those who truly needed it.

In 1993, she and Horace started a fund at the Long Island Community Foundation — geared toward children and families in need of help — which has since donated $65,403,917 in nearly 2,985 grants to more than 500 nonprofit organizations. After Horace died in 2005, he left her $50 million to continue their charitable activism. With the help of Darren Sandow, a longtime member of the Long Island Community Foundation staff, the widow started the Hagedorn Foundation, a limited-life organization that continues to provide much-needed attention and care for families and children, especially those of an early age.

“As a preschool teacher, Amy was very concerned with the early years of a child’s life,” said Sandow, executive director of the foundation. “That was a very big passion of hers; she basically wanted every kid to get to the same starting line, no matter what ZIP code they came from.”

Hagedorn believed that parents who are emotionally available, educating children as early as possible, and providing safe environments are greatly improving the health and future job prospects of their child, as well as reducing involvement in crime and substance abuse. Her passion led to programs like the Parent Leadership Initiative, among many others like it, which provides intensive advocacy training for parents.

“She basically wanted every kid to get to the same starting line, no matter what ZIP code they came from.”

— Darren Sandow

Her contributions to the world around her were limitless and awe-inspiring.

The Hagedorn Foundation helped establish a more family-based system at Middle Country Public Library and was instrumental in transforming it into a community center — providing childhood education and support for families in need of a nurturing environment.

Another huge passion of hers was immigration. The foundation worked tirelessly in helping immigrants and making Long Island a more comfortable place for them to live and thrive and advance. Having grown up hearing stories of what her mother went through in a country brand new to her, Hagedorn was proud to grant them the money they needed to get going. She also hired an outreach coordinator on behalf of the foundation to speak at schools and avert prejudices and hate crimes against immigrants.

In addition, Hagedorn granted scholarships to deserving students from her alma mater, Baruch College, among several other colleges. She was also heavily involved in helping people become more hands-on politically, exercising their rights to vote and participating in the local governments of their communities.

She was pivotal in the foundation of ERASE Racism, which served to expose and combat structural racism across Long Island and was on the board of Northwell Health, a system devoted to providing better health care.

For Sandow, Hagedorn’s absence will be immensely felt.

“We have staff meetings every Monday, and Amy attended just about every single one of them, and it’s heart-wrenching to not see her in her normal space around our table, being part of our conversations,” he said. “I’ve known Amy for 20 years now and I considered her a matriarch and a mentor and partner at this foundation. She was very hands-on and very approachable to everyone. You would never know the kind of wealth she had. She was an amazing lady, and she was fearless.”

Amy Hagedorn is survived by her four children, as well as Horace’s six children, 34 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. A public memorial service will take place in October. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, those who wish to express condolences make a contribution to the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund at the New York Community Trust.

Teresa Palmer in a scene from ‘Lights Out,’ one of this summer’s sleeper hits with a sequel already in the works. Photo courtesy of LA Film Festival

By Kevin Redding

“Lights Out” may appear to just be another entry in the often cheap and soulless things-that-go-bump-in-the-night subgenre that reigns supreme in modern horror, but don’t let its seemingly conventional premise, of an evil entity that shows up to haunt when the room is dark, fool you: This movie is scary, clever and — surprisingly — elevating by addressing mental illness and the effect it could have on a family.

First-time director David F. Sandberg takes on the challenge of stretching his original three-minute short — which was praised for being on a level of terror and suspense that most contemporary horror movies fail to reach — into something that sustains its 80-minute runtime and doesn’t grow stale quickly, which is tough when the concept is as simple as this. It’s creepy and makes for some exceptionally eerie visuals (the freaky silhouette appearing and disappearing with the flick of a switch will undoubtedly stick with you before bed) but how can that work for an entire narrative?

As Sandberg showcases, the answer is with great acting, characters we care about, and real human drama that raises the stakes when the inevitable horror fill the screen.

Gabriel Bateman and Teresa Palmer in a scene from ‘Lights Out.’ Photo courtesy of LA Film Festival
Gabriel Bateman and Teresa Palmer in a scene from ‘Lights Out.’ Photo courtesy of LA Film Festival

At the center of the scares is a family in crisis. A young boy named Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is left alone with his mentally unstable mother Sophie after his father dies in a mysterious freak accident at work (which makes for a really intense opening sequence). Sophie, played by an incredible Maria Bello, is way too damaged to be raising a kid; she spends most of her time locked away in her room talking to a dead woman named Diana, with whom she spent time in a mental institution when they were both young.

Diana is like the physical embodiment of Sophie’s psychological problems, which allows the movie, through jump scares and a freaky atmosphere, to talk a little about the dangers of trying to hide these issues and the consequences of harboring them — or unleashing them.

Diana makes herself known by standing in the shadows, aggressively attacking her victims, and doing everything she can to ensure that the lights don’t go on and halt her terrorizing, and the lengths to which she’ll go are really unnerving. Even during the day and when all lights are on, she could be hiding in darkness under the bed, or a corner of the room, or strike when the inevitable power shortage occurs. She can also travel to different locations, so safety is never really guaranteed no matter where you go.

Martin seeks refuge in his older sister Rebecca, played with a realistic chip-on-her-shoulder attitude by Teresa Palmer, who has long since moved out to escape her own dealings with her mother and Diana. Over the course of events, she becomes hell-bent on protecting Martin at all costs — even going as far as wanting to be his legal guardian. Together with her unexpectedly likable and resourceful boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) Rebecca helps Martin battle the evil that has latched itself onto their mother in an ending that contains plenty of high-tension scares and a big moment that’s sure to be contentious among viewers, in relation to mental illness.

Produced by modern horror master James Wan, who recently gave us a winning horror movie filled with great acting, characters we care about, and real human drama, with last month’s “The Conjuring 2,” “Lights Out” is truly effective and bold, serving as proof that a PG-13 rating slapped on a movie in this genre doesn’t always mean that it won’t deliver.

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