Coming off the mildly successful Buried, Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes is once again providing the thrills, but this time, in another sense. Instead of confinement and claustrophobia, Cortes brings us into the world of the paranormal, offering up an eerie tale that starts out promising, but ultimately falls victim to a lacklustre script full of problems.
Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are investigators of the paranormal, solving mini-mysteries and dashing dreams of those who think they really do have a gift. Debunking is their plied trade and and seemingly, they’re the best at it. Even academics such as Paul Shackleton (Toby Jones) aren’t safe as the super-confident Matheson exposes his latest psychic findings and emasculates him in less time than a commercial break.
Just when they think they’ve seen it all, the two investigators come across the reclusive king of all psychics, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), who re-appears after a three decade absence. Buckley sees this as a chance to send him away for good and save the unsuspecting masses in the process. Silver is blind, but manages to see all and Buckley is determined to expose him, despite Matheson’s most adamant warnings against tangling with Silver.
Red Lights could easily be compared to those of its genre at first glance, but if you look closer, you see a film that stands out on its own and often to its own peril. It’s nearly two hour running time works against it, because after the initial well done shocks and surprises, things start to become cliche. The long, slow sweeping shots that Rodrigo uses became less a source of suspense and more of a reminder of how long this movie is.
Robert De Niro doesn’t have the most screen time, but he’s obviously the biggest get. As the messianic Simon Silver, he takes the character so seriously that he’s dismissed as a scam artist early on and an overly dramatic one at that. If you want an example of where a director should’ve reined in a superstar, the final 20 minutes of this film is all you need to see. Unnecessary diatribes by De Niro at the end of the film only served to create laughter in the crowd I was in.
Although it’s a bit of an inside joke with Sigourney going from ghost skeptic to believer to supernatural skeptic again, her role as Matheson shouldn’t be discounted. And while Cillian has a creepy edge to him that makes him believable as Buckley, the script allows him to stray from the focus of the story entirely too much, culminating in a cartoonish fight scene and a confrontation with De Niro that produced more yawns than yikes. All of this results in a very clever ending being wasted and the talents of the trio of Cillian, Weaver and De Niro all for naught.
Strong actors like Toby Jones, Elisabeth Olsen and Joely Richardson are more less wasted too, as they are all stuck in roles that are severely under-written. Murphy and Weaver are by far the best part of the film but even they can’t save what is ultimately a wholly mediocre, and sometimes even crummy movie.
As the film progresses, the momentum quickly runs out and by the end, you’ll find yourself desperately checking your watch. Whatever tension and suspense the movie delivered at the start, it fails to sustain. Yes, there are some scares at the start, and Cortes does initially have you hooked, but as time goes on the script gives way and things quickly start to fall apart. Feeling very tedious at times, it does pick up right near the end, slightly, but by then it’s too little too late.
I wouldn’t discount Cortes as a director just yet, but Red Lights does show that the relative newcomer still has aways to go before he hits the A-list. There’s definitely potential in here somewhere, it’s just tough to pick out amidst all the missteps and wrong moves.