An average thriller with a couple of stand-out moments, Red Lights isn't a total write-off.
The overriding sentiment of Rodrigo Cortes’ Red Lights has to be “How could this go wrong?” Boasting the director of the superb Buried, as well as a cast that can name Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones and Robert De Niro, the film is sadly somewhat less than the sum of its parts.
It starts strongly, to be fair, setting the scene as Murphy and Weaver play two renowned paranormal investigators and sceptics, out to debunk phoney psychics wherever they can. An atmospheric séance scene sets the tone as the pair set their sights on the biggest fish of all - stage medium Simon Silver (De Niro). Recruiting star pupil Olsen to aid their investigations, they go after Silver with everything they’ve got – but as strange events occur, find they may be up against more than mere fraud.
For the first hour the film is as enjoyable as you could expect, given the strangely low-stakes narrative. Weaver and Murphy have a neat chemistry, and the film is all the stronger whenever they share scenes. Having such steady hands onboard lends the first half something of an X-files vibe, so much so that we can forgive the occasionally sloppy exposition that takes over far too often. Indeed, the cast do a fine job, without ever really stretching themselves – Olsen in particular is underused, in a role that could have effectively been cut altogether. De Niro, too, is on a lot better form than we have seen of late, switching between underplayed creepiness and a theatrical stage persona that gives the veteran a lot more to do than the coasting performance that was perhaps expected.
The main problem comes around the half-way mark, when that exposition rears its ugly head again. The film simply doesn’t give its audience enough credit, holding our hands through almost every scene, and practically spelling the plot out for us as it goes along. It’s a real shame, since as a story Red Lights keeps us interested enough, but never once lets us figure things out for ourselves. The third act does descend into silliness, but would also have paved the way for rewarding repeat viewings, if it didn’t insist on voice overs and montages to explain the story with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
There are one or two moments of real flair from Cortes, in particular a brief sequence which is reminiscent of a found-footage movie as we are taken through the experiments designed to test Silver’s abilities, and a wonderfully ambiguous sequence in a gorgeously shot rundown apartment block late on. The scene is the only one in the second half of the film where the plot isn’t spelled out for us, and as a result is perhaps the most interesting sequence in the entire movie.
Red Lights, then, is not by any means a total write-off, but rather a steady thriller that doesn’t credit its audience with the intelligence to enjoy the film by themselves. A real shame, but there is enough here to keep Red Lights from being a disaster – not least an excellent cast.