In 2010, director Rodrigo Cortes created a claustrophobic thriller of Hitchcockian proportions with Buried, a movie that earned itself a share of this writer’s year-end top ten list. With his new film, Red Lights, Cortes stays within the framework of the thriller genre, but goes beyond the coffin to examine the subject of paranormal science. The movie attempts to do the same for its subject as Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige did for magic, but unfortunately Red Lights falls way short of that superior movie.
The movie quickly introduces us to a couple of scientists who, when they’re not teaching college courses, spend their days debunking supposed psychics. The senior scientist, Margaret Matheson, does so to try to get answers about her son who has been in a coma since he was four years old, while her assistant Tom…well, Tom has his reasons.
Their ultimate target is a psychic named Simon Silver, a legend who disappeared from the limelight after one of his biggest cynics died of a sudden heart attack at one of his shows. Some felt that he caused the attack himself, but Silver is quick to point out that his accusers are the same ones who previously criticized him for being a fraud. Silver is now coming out of retirement for a farewell tour and even agreed to be tested by one of Dr. Matheson’s colleagues. Tom is determined to investigate Silver, but Matheson warns him of the danger. Tom’s need to expose Silver, however, goes far beyond his mentor’s warnings.
Red Lights begins with a very mediocre opening sequence and then dissolves from there into a disaster of poor storytelling. With more holes than a golf course, the plot just doesn’t make any sense. Even looking back on the plot after knowing all the movie’s twists and turns, there is no understanding it. It’s also told in a very poor way, using newscasters far too often to deal with the plot exposition. There is also a very out-of-place fight scene towards the end that seems like it belongs more in a Terminator movie than it does a paranormal thriller.
As a horror flick, the movie does deliver its share of scares, but they are essentially just scares for scares sake and aren’t generated by any genuine tension or horror. As such, the impact of these scares lessened very quickly. After all, there are only so many times that a movie can startle its audience by having a bird fly into a window or a door slam suddenly.
There are some good actors in this movie, but none of them are at the top of their game. As Matheson and Tom, respectively, Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy take their performances way too far over-the-top serious (smile a little, please!), while Robert DeNiro seems to be on cruise control as Silver. The movie could have used a little more of Elizabeth Olsen as a student who begins dating Tom, but the movie leaves her behind too much. In fact, at one point in the movie she even begs “don’t leave me,” but unfortunately neither Tom nor Cortes heard her plea.
There is potential for a good thriller in Red Lights, but it is so poorly put together that little to none of that potential actually shines through. Skip this one and watch The Prestige again.
Red Lights is rated R for “language and some violence.” The scares are definitely reason enough to keep the kids away and anyone who doesn’t like spooky stories should probably stay away as well.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Red Lights.