Director Rodrigo Cortes’s last film, Buried, was an interesting piece of work that was ultimately flawed by logic and a predictable twist. His follow-up, Red Lights, pretty much continues in the same vein but on a bigger scale with a bigger cast and less obvious twist.
[Review includes spoilers]
Red Lights is a thriller with horror elements, tackling psychic shams and exposing them. Having three dependable leads (Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver) helps elevate the film’s respectability, if only slightly.
The film opens with university lecturer Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Murphy) debunking a psychic event. Buckley is an extremely talented physicist yet has set out in this low-paid assistant’s job to help Weaver expose fraudulent psychics, later to be revealed because one gave his dying mother false hope. This is while they are both butting heads with inept colleague and researcher in the paranormal, Paul Shackleton (Toby Jones).
At the same time the public re-emergence of a famous blind psychic, Simon Silver (De Niro), is built up, and his comeback after a 30 year break provides the catalyst for Matheson and Buckley’s working relationship to go deeper than ever before. Matheson and Silver have history, but it is Buckley who pursues the investigation at all costs into exposing him as a fraud – if he really is.
Although this is sharply-made and captivating to a certain degree (who doesn’t find this topic interesting?), there is just no escaping that the film breaks down when you think about things logically at the end. It’s not to M. Night Shyamalan proportions, but you do wonder how the film unravelled without there being any sort of realisation that something does not quite make sense to any of the characters.
One such instance is that Silver is meant to have gone through all these rigorous tests to explain his ‘abilities’, yet the scientists fail to ‘see’ if he is actually blind or not. At least the movie addresses the subject matter by showing how convincing some of these guys are and the lengths they go to. It just feels that the intentionally unexplained events can all be explained rather illogically upon its conclusion.
It helps that there is a decent array of talent on hand to help carry the film through its flaws. The main cast Rodrigo Cortés has assembled is pretty impressive; established stars Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro, and Sigourney Weaver, plus the small, if forgettable, roles of Toby Jones, Joely Richardson and Elisabeth Olsen.
Murphy and Weaver play well off each other, but no matter how great an actor Murphy is – and here he gives a decent performance – he just doesn’t have that star presence. As a result, the decline in interest and quality takes a noticeable dive with the sudden departure of Weaver half-way through. De Niro takes over and you could argue that he is the only weak like in the acting department. He has dabbled in this genre before in the early 2000’s with Godsend and Hide and Seek, and even back then he didn’t seem too interested.
Overall, Red Lights is too light on the scares to be horror and too low on the suspense to be a thriller. Nevertheless it is a fun movie that will have you guessing until the end, despite the twist ending not being the revelation it would have liked to have been. If you are looking for something more substantial on this issue, a Derren Brown special would provide something more to chew on.
Best scene: A brutal toilet fight scene involving Buckley and one of Silver’s accomplices – the best clash involving urinals and cubicles since True Lies.