Reviewed by Michael Erb
Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Dr. Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) have dedicated their careers to debunking bogus paranormal events and teaching how these supernatural occurrences can be faked. But the pair are thrown for a loop when world renown psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement and attracts a great deal of publicity. Even with the help of Buckley’s star student and new paramour (Elizabeth Olsen), the skeptics are experiencing some genuinely strange phenomenon when they look into Silver. The team may have to accept the possibility that Silver is the real deal and coming straight for them.
While the second film from writer/director Rodrigo Cortes (Buried) is filled with awesome ideas and good dialogue, it doesn’t live up to its ambitious potential. Red Lights does maintain a mysteriousness that keeps it intriguing, but it doesn’t succeed at being scary or thrilling. The story asks good questions about the possibility of psychic abilities and leads the viewer down a dark path. But it doesn’t go anywhere with those concepts and questions; it meanders about until the final confrontation.
The main theme of Red Lights is finding the truth of oneself, but the movie cannot concentrate long enough to find its own truth. Matheson and Buckley both strive to root out paranormal fakes for very personal reasons. Silver is their definitive test to find the truth and is repeatedly presented as their antagonist. But, his seemingly omnipresent menace is always set aside to pursue one more fake medium, faith healer, and so on. As a result, Silver never comes across as a particularly scary individual and the doctors look slightly scatterbrained. Why is Silver so important when the story won’t even pay attention to him? Plus, Red Lights has a slightly groan inducing twist ending that spells out everything for the viewer. How certain things happened, why spooky stuff was going on, and every other mystery presented gets gift wrapped for the viewer. A little ambiguity might have made for a stronger ending, as opposed to the guided tour of an ending which feels like a cheat. The story payoff is there, but the way the ending is constructed lacks the proper impact to make the conclusion effective.
The acting is decent for the whole cast, but it’s nothing special. Sigourney Weaver has the strongest performance of the film as the driven and cynical Dr. Margaret Matheson. She keeps Red Lights entertaining while onscreen, and her absence marks a noticeable turn in the film’s quality. Cillian Murphy does a fine job as well, showing off a range of emotions as his character gets pulled into a traumatic journey of personal truth and paranormal happenings. Robert De Niro has moments of enigmatic cool and thunderous fury, but the rest of his screen time lacks any real direction. Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, and Joely Richardson are given very little to work with in supporting roles. Everyone does a fine job, but all this talent feels wasted in this movie.
The visuals are pretty bland, even when spooky things start happening. Birds killing themselves in front of a startled Cillian Murphy should be visually arresting, but it looks rather mundane. The sound design shows some flair when threatening psychic activity occurs, but that’s it. For a movie about finding psychics powers, there should be more going on with its presentation.
Red Lights is brimming with talented people and great ideas, but it never turns into a compelling thriller. The movie is still good enough to carry your attention for a while, but it’s ultimately a missed opportunity.
The disc has no noticeable faults with its presentation and sound. Red Lights isn’t all that interesting visually, nor does the sound design stand out. This looks and sounds as good as the movie could.
The extras are pitifully sparse. The disc includes interviews with both the cast and the director. Both of these videos are reused to compose the making of featurette, with the exception of a quick word from the cinematographer. It’s both lazy and sad. The behind-the-scenes featurette isn’t even a full 2 minutes long, which makes its inclusion a little questionable. There are also previews on the disc, but they can’t save the already paltry and shoddy extras.