Film Review – Red Lights
There is a speech that takes place about two-thirds of the way through Rodrigo Cortes’s film Red Lights (2012). It’s an eloquent speech, to be sure, one that speaks about the choices we make between science and faith—between the things we know because of hard evidence, and the things we know because of what we feel. The speech is delivered by the great Robert De Niro, and if we were to examine it in a vacuum, we could see at how well-written and well-performed it is. This is clearly the highlight of the film—or at least it’s supposed to be. I point this out at the beginning of this review because I believe this scene is representative for the film as a whole. Yes, it is done well and has some good pieces in place, but when we step back and examine everything together, we come to realize that it all (including the speech) doesn’t make much sense in the end.
And that is the major problem with this movie. There are a lot of good things going for it, which should have helped make it a more engaging experience, but overall, it falls flat. Cortes is coming off of his work in Buried (2010), and while that film did not sit well with me, he did do a good job at keeping my attention fastened with his technical skill. That doesn’t happen here. This is a muggy, lifeless film that should have been better than what it turned out to be. Horror/thrillers involving people’s skepticism of the supernatural is always a good starting point to at least be entertaining, but here it feels as though everyone involved took the material a little more seriously than it needed to be taken.
If there is a strong point in this movie, it’s in the casting. There are a good number of talented actors all throughout, and even if some don’t get a chance to really shine in their roles, for the most part, everyone does solid work. The lead character is Dr. Margaret Matheson, played by Sigourney Weaver. Dr. Matheson has made a career of being a professional skeptic. She travels the country studying and debunking paranormal activity, whether it is powerful mind readers or your typical haunted house. Through simple explanations and scientific tests, Dr. Matheson can expose the most unbelievable phenomena to be a simple faker. Along with Dr. Matheson is her assistant Dr. Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), a gifted physicist whose motivations to tag along aren’t initially all that clear.
Matheson and Buckley are good at what they do, and have a track record that is perfect (at one point, Matheson describes how she has never experienced a legitimate paranormal episode she couldn’t explain). There is one big fish that Matheson and Buckley have yet to prove wrong, and that is De Niro’s character, the world famous psychic Simon Silver. In a flashback sequence, we come to find that being a powerful psychic can make you a bit of a rock star, as we see Silver posing for photographs with celebrities and going on talk shows to chat about his unique gift. After a freak accident that caused Silver to become a recluse for decades, he has reappeared to much anticipation and hype, drawing attention from both the media and our two main doctors. You see, the uniqueness of Simon Silver is not only that he can read minds, bend spoons and all that fancy schmancy stuff, but that he is also blind. This is what makes him so difficult to analyze and debunk, and causes Matheson to hesitate going after him, despite the urging of Buckley.
The script (also written by Cortes) steps back from truly developing our characters into real flesh-and-blood people, and instead revels more in the numerous plot twists that inhabit the movie. Which is too bad, because the premise lays a good foundation that is never built up further. We have Dr. Matheson, the representation of science and fact, up against the idea of the faith beyond what we understand in Simon Silver. It could to be a great face-to-face match-up, but the film doesn’t even attempt to go that route, settling more on shocks and surprises that come from left field. In the end, this makes the film feel like an incoherent mess. How some issues are resolved is so head-scratchingly silly that I almost wanted to see the film again just to see if it plays out in the same absurd way, and the final “showdown” that happens became borderline comedic—and I mean that in a bad way.
The cinematography lacks energy, giving us shots that feel humid and ugly. There is an absence of genuine thrill—parts that are meant to be nerve-wracking were cliché and recycled from other/better movies. One of the few bright spots came in Elizabeth Olsen’s character, Sally (one of Dr. Matheson’s students). Olsen’s performance appeared as though she was one of the few who actually had a good time making the movie, but unfortunately her character is left to the wayside. I can keep going on and on about what didn’t work with Red Lights, but you can see where I’m at with this film. It’s too bad that such a group of people, who have made such good projects before, can come together to make something so flimsy and frustrating to watch.
Final Grade: D+