“Red Lights” is one of those movies which sounded good in theory but fell flat in practice. In theory, you have Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Toby Jones and Robert DeNiro in a film which looks set to play out as a serious thriller version of “Ghostbusters”. In practice, you’ve got something that’s not sure whether it’s a scientific thriller or thrilling pseudo-science.
The film opens with University Academic Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and her assistant, Physicist Tom Buckley (Murphy) investigating and debunking incidents of alleged paranormal activity interspersed with media coverage of legendary blind celebrity Psychic Simon Silver (DeNiro) announcing his comeback from a self-imposed seclusion.
As investigators, Matheson and Buckley are actually pretty engaging but the film quickly side-lines their on-going investigations and work as lecturers in favour of a slightly overcooked melodrama involving Simon Silver’s return to the limelight, Buckley’s Ahab-like obsession with exposing him and Matheson’s reluctance to investigate him again after an emotionally upsetting encounter years before where Silver invoked the spirit of her comatose son during their confrontation.
As Buckley’s obsession grows, he decides to pursue the investigation against Silver independently, despite a series of increasingly disturbing and inexplicable events plaguing him. Unfortunately, the movie throws logic and science out of the window and ends up treading a more clichéd and predictable path.
Weaver and DeNiro are as reliably excellent as you would expect. Cillian Murphy also does well as the driven Tom Buckley, and it’s nice to see him in a heroic leading role for once. Toby Jones as Matheson’s rival academic Dr Paul Shackleton and Joely Richardson as Silver’s Manager Monica Handsen are wasted as underwritten cyphers while the talents of Elizabeth Olsen are criminally underused in a purely decorative role as Buckley’s girlfriend.
This is very much a film of two halves, and the first forty-five or so minutes are great. However, once the ‘shock event’ is delivered in the middle of the film, it drifts off course and writer/ director Rodrigo Cortés’ ambition is revealed. Unfortunately, the final revelation only serves to show how far short of his aim he fell. This is way, way off the marketing hype promise of ‘This year’s “The Sixth Sense”!’
If Cortés had kept this a taught thriller about dedicated and serious scientists myth-busting their way to a final confrontation with a cynical and ruthless hoaxer we could have had something really special. Instead, he gives us a muddled and illogical ‘surprise twist’, undermining all the good work he has done. Cortés has no need to imitate in order to succeed, so it’s a shame he chose to here. After all, we already have a director who desperately tries to replicate the magic of early Shyamalan films – he’s called M. Night Shyamalan.