First premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in March, Rodrigo Cortés’ Red Lights wasn’t particularly well recieved, with many critics citing it as the worst film of the entire festival. Harsh words, but judging from the trailer, this was never meant to be an ‘arty’ release. It is, however, an overall enjoyable mystery thriller that comes close to falling apart in its final act.
When not travelling the country denouncing apparent paranormal phenomena, veteran Psychologist Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her young assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) pass on their knowledge as university lecturers. Matheson, with over 30 years experience, has encountered (and solved with logic) almost every possible scenario relating to the supernatural, but there’s one man whose actions she cannot disprove: world renowned psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), who comes out of retirement years after his biggest critic and skeptic died under mysterious circumstances. Buckley is eager to investigate Silver, seeing it as their biggest challenge yet, but Matheson is incredibly hesitant: she has encountered Silver in the past with negative consequences. When a TV interview involving the experienced psychologist and a panel of Silvers results in her storming off set, Buckley becomes determined to uncloak Silver as a fraud.
There are two huge names in the cast list, those being Weaver and De Niro, and yet this film has seemingly appeared from nowhere. Murphy is essentially the leading man here, but for the most part it’s a ‘co-headlining’ role with Weaver. Unsurprisingly, it’s the female who really shines: she gives a fantastic performance in a role that doesn’t necessarily leap out as an interesting one on paper. In regards to her dialogue, the majority of her lines sound like she’s stuck teaching a lecture; it doesn’t sound like natural conversation, and It’s only when she’s revealing the history of her and Silver that Weaver’s talent is fully exposed. Murphy, who has been relatively quiet recently, does a fine job in his comeback role as the assistant. He doesn’t quite reach leading man material just yet, and in the scenes where he is the focus it’s sorely missing the presence of Weaver, but he’s on the right path for super-stardom.
As big of a name De Niro is, his recent ‘work’ hasn’t been memorable in the slightest; the less said about Little Fockers and New Years Eve, the better. Fortunately, he fits the character of Simon Silver perfectly. His screen time is less than expected, but he is referred to enough to stay in the audiences mind. Regardless of how little we see of him, Silver is by far De Niro’s best character of the last 10 years. Toby Jones (The Mist and the voice of Dobby in the Harry Potter series) and Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House) also provide sufficient support in smaller roles.
Narratively, Red Lights opens with a pre-credits scene unrelated to the rest of the film. On first thought, it’s less than satisfying and it’s explanation is under developed. Following the opening titles, it is explained, but in the grand scale of things it’s totally meaningless. From then on, it’s a slow burning, dialogue driven thriller that takes its time getting to the bulk of the story. It’s not entirely a critisism: the characters are developed effectively in this time. Once it reaches midway through the second act though, the film takes a dive and substitutes theory and explanations with cheap shocks and the occasional jump scare. By the time the finale arrives, it feels like a completely different film to the one it started with, with an ending so marmite, Cortés may as well have just replaced the scenes with an image of it.
Red Lights benefits from a veteran actress in the leading role and an iconic actor as the antagonist. It’s good to see younger talent being given a chance as well, with Murphy and Olsen both impressing. The premise, whilst intriguing, isn’t explored as much as it could be, but instead is shoved into the back seat so that loud bangs and crashes can take its place. Is it worth a full price ticket? Not quite. But as an Orange Wednesday choice, or (if you’re willing to wait) a rental, there’s certainly worse things to do than go into the light.