What do you make of a movie that squanders almost every opportunity to elevate itself beyond distinct mediocrity? With the case of ‘Red Lights’, you mostly just shake your head and wonder if the 2 hours spent watching it was at all worth it. For me, the answer is mostly no. There’s certainly a solid foundation here for an effective film. Writer/director Rodrigo Cortés greatly impressed me with his last flick ‘Buried’, while the assembled cast includes some rather unusual turns from the likes of Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, and Elizabeth Olsen. No one here is used to their full effectiveness though by the filmmaker, and that includes Cortés himself. It’s almost as if he realized in the middle of production that all the effort wasn’t leading up to anything significant, so he threw up his hands, came up with the silliest ending possible, and just went with that. 95% of the film’s running time you’re sort of half interested in what’s going on and hoping that things come together in the final moments, but when you get there and see what’s actually the case, it’s not hard to envision the movie inspiring hatred. I wouldn’t go that far, but I certainly didn’t like it very much. This is a very flawed film and barely an interesting failure when all is said and done.
For paranormal researchers/psychologists/debunkers Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Murphy), any instance of telekinesis or paranormal ability is just a hoax that needs exposing. Margaret is a highly respected veteran in the field, while Tom is her up and coming assistant, and they’ve yet to find someone who wasn’t a fraud in their eyes. There is one exception though, someone from Margaret’s past. He is Simon Silver (De Niro), a retired yet world renowned psychic who can fill stadiums but has been in exile until very recently. Tom wants to investigate Simon, but Margaret has no interest. She dealt with him once and promised herself that she’d never do it again. Tom is somewhat obsessed with Simon though, and with the help of a student/lover Sally Owen (Olsen), he begins looking into the man. An unexpected event leads to him going full force after Simon, though at the same time he’s submitted himself to testing by Paul Shackleton (Toby Jones) at the same University to prove he’s the real deal. Essentially, it’s a race against time to see who can prove themselves first. Of course, nothing is as it seems, but I’m sure you guessed that already. The sad thing is, this could have been a better movie, if not for that ending…
The acting is rather interesting in the film, but not interesting enough as to save it, mind you. The cast are all directed to consistently take things up to 11, and the results are unique, if not especially effective. Robert De Niro gives off an air of importance and authority as Simon Silver, though when told to yell he really goes off the deep end. This isn’t the De Niro extremism that we know and love from certain performances. This is more the type of out there performance that he’s been known for over the past decade or two. It’s better than average for him, but it’s still not especially great. Sigourney Weaver kind of sleepwalks through some parts, though at other times she’s easily the best of the bunch. Weaver’s character kind of gets the short stick, plot wise, but at least during the first half she’s the most interesting character in the movie. Cillian Murphy winds up seeming a bit silly at points, but that’s as much due to the script as anything else. I wouldn’t call Murphy bad, but he’s definitely been better. As for Elizabeth Olsen, she’s pretty much wasted. Her performance is fine, but she really has nothing to do. The cast also includes familiar faces in Toby Jones, Joely Richardson, and Craig Roberts, but they don’t leave much of an impression. The main cast are game to try to make sense of this movie, but they mostly come up short.
Rodrigo Cortés is the most responsible of the bunch for why this movie fails. His direction is a bit overdramatic, but it’s not terrible, though certainly not nearly as unique as in ‘Buried’. It’s his script though that sinks the flick. He does begin with some interesting ideas and a focus on obsession and science vs faith, but before long he’s only paying lip service to those things while hoping that you won’t see the “twist” coming. The third act is all building up to a big reveal, and it’s one that you’ll wish they had kept a secret. I won’t give any hints, but suffice to say…it’s not good. Cortés has talent, but this is a product I don’t think he’ll want to go bragging about.
‘Red Lights’ never devolves into self parody or offends quite enough to be really slapped around, but it’s certainly a missed opportunity and not nearly as good as it could have been. I was actually looking forward to finally seeing this one, but the final product is just not worth anyone’s time unless you’re dedicated to seeing all the works of someone in this cast. Those desperate for a shot of Elizabeth Olsen can see her do much better work in ‘Liberal Arts’, while supporting player Craig Roberts is actually a part of an upcoming film that I love, but more on that one soon. As for this flick, it’s just not up to snuff, plain and simple.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!