Red Lights provides us with an interesting thriller about the debunking of paranormal activities by a team of university physicists. And then the debunking of physics, and rational thinking, by that irksome thought in the back of everyone’s head that maybe, there just might be something unexplainable out there. All good horror movies depend on the exploitation of this feeling. Red Lights is the first movie, I’ve seen, that explores it through its characters. For the most part it is effective; the movie will keep you on its grip until everything falls apart in the last few scenes.
From the start we follow a team of university physicists who spend their free time exposing psychic charlatans. They are aided by the police, who then proceeds to arrest those who take advantage of their costumers naivety - if only the real world worked like this. The team consists of Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver), who has a no-nonsense attitude few can carry with, her young colleague, Dr. Thomas Buckley (Cillian Murphy), and later on a giddy intern and love interest for Tom named Sally Owen (Elizabeth Olsen).
Both, Dr. Matheson and Dr. Buckley, have deep personal reasons to chase down paranormal charlatans. But it is easier to understand that their professional careers mean nothing unless the debunk every charlatan to the very last one. And there is only on they haven’t been able to expose till now; a blind psychic / healer named Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro). Besides being a “psychic” Silver is also a great showman and a cult phenomenon. Some followers take him seriously enough that they would go to extremes to prevent the university intellectuals from debunking him. There is also a turtle-like professor in the university, Dr. Shackelton (Toby Jones), who despite having a Ph.D. firmly believes there might be something to Silver’s abilities. Dr.s Matheson and Buckley simply resent him because his department gets more funding than theirs.
It is a great array of characters, everyone here has a personal and hidden motive for their actions. Even Dr. Matheson questions here colleague; he is a prodigy, who could have taught or work anywhere, why did he choose to work for her in an underpaid job in an underfunded university? And the cast could not have been better selected. Sigourney Weaver gives Dr. Matheson the weight of her non-nonsense attitude with an intrinsic only she can carry. While DeNiro grants Silver the charisma only a veteran stage hand can possibly have. Under DeNiro Silver is more than just a charlatan; he is a legitimate threat. All in all you can see Weaver, DeNiro, and Murphy enjoying their roles, and performing their best - hell even the lost Olsen triplet does OK here.
But despite its gripping set up and brilliant cast, Red Lights sort of falls apart at the end. Little detail is given about Silver’s psychic act, when the movie spent the entire first act deconstructing other performances and frauds. Instead it provides us with a series of chases through dark alleys that lead nowhere and red herrings crashing into windows. Only, to ultimately end up in a twist ala “Bruce-Willis-was-the-ghost”. Except that unlike “Bruce Willis was the ghost” ties into the movie’s logic. Not so much here.
Nevertheless Red Lights is enjoyable, and horror movie fans will be adequately entertained. The film was written and directed by Rodrigo Cortes, who has been the only filmmaker to deliver a movie entirely from the POV of a man buried alive. Buried was surprisingly effective as it is unique. In that film Cortes was able to create more action that one would think is possible to have inside a sealed coffin. Suffices to say Cortes works better in tight spaces; the most gripping moments in Red Lights happen in small rooms behind one-way mirrors, and the basements where underfunded professors do their research not in the grand halls of a mega-auditorium / church.