Buried director Rodrigo Cortés returns with a film that’s much bigger than his last intimate project, but also much smaller in potency. Red Lights never overcomes its weak script and almost directionless story as pro actors Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver act as mice leading the blind in this disappointing thriller. Cillian Murphy‘s talent gets misused yet again and Elizabeth Olsen doesn’t even get a chance to say more than a handful lines. Red Lights is the collection of great talent working off of bad material, making it a disappointing time-waster that you shouldn’t bother with.
Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) spend their days studying paranormal occurrences. They journey out where ever someone claims to have spotted or witnessed a paranormal event and they usually debunk them early on. Their lives are almost borderline depressing, because they’ve given up on paranormal things even existing. They simply repeat the same steps day after day, until one gifted magician/paranormal by the name of Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) re-enters the spotlight.
Silver has never been proven to be a phony, which makes him the most interesting person in the world to Buckley. He obsesses over figuring out how Silver does what he does and he takes it to the point of deadly consequences. Margaret continuously warns him about Silver and how he’s not to be trifled with, but that doesn’t stop Buckley from recruiting young Sally Owen (Elizabeth Olsen) and various others to help try to bring down Silver.
Rodrigo Cortés directs this stylish thriller with a keen eye. He lets shots go on longer than they probably should, because he’s a gifted filmmaker when it comes to establishing tension and building on the thrills. His last film Buried was one of the most intense films of 2010 and it all took place in a single box. Cortés pulls back with Red Lights, allowing for more character work to unfold and for relationships to naturally form.
What works best in Red Lights is the performances by veteran actors Sigourney Weaver and Robert De Niro and also the incredibly under-appreciated Cillian Murphy. The three equate to an on-screen diversity that drives the film and keeps it going, despite the numerous story flaws. De Niro taps into some of his older work as Silver, the slimy manipulator that has something up his sleeve. It’s been far too long since De Niro has played such a presence like the one here and it’s great to see him back.
Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy provide different ways for De Niro’s character to evolve and interact with those around him. Weaver’s more of an old-fashioned skeptic who has seemingly ventured down the dark path trying to prove Silver as a fake and Murphy represents the fresh and eager blood that wants to prove him a phony, even if he might be the real deal.
Weaver is mostly a setup role that makes the back-and-forth between De Niro and Murphy all the more important, but she gets a few jabs in during the film’s opening act. From that point on Murphy takes on the lead role and he does so with a ball of unstoppable energy. The character of Buckley is getting sick of being told what’s real and what’s fake and Murphy completely embodies the role and drives him to the edge. I almost hate seeing Murphy in films like this, because his performance is top-notch, but the film itself is severely lacking. I wish someone would cast him in a starring role in something a bit more promising.
Cortés keeps the film smoothly flowing, despite the jumbled script that drops the ball when it should be capitalizing on the heightened mystery and buildup that Cortés has created. Red Lights has a solid opening hour, but quickly becomes a time-waster that never recovers from so much wasted potential.
One great thing about the film is its visual beauty. Cortés and his cinematographer have made great use of coloring, making this one a rather dark film that holds well on Blu-Ray. The 1080p encode is shadowy with a yellow tint, but it looks haunting and distinct.
The 5.1 Dolby True-HD track is mix-heavy and makes good use of panning environmental noises. Dialogue is mostly forced in the front, but the back channels open up for all sorts of spooky activity.
Here’s a list of bonus content found on the disc:
- Cast Interviews (HD)
- Director’s Interview (HD)
- Making of Red Lights (HD)
- Behind the Scenes (HD)
- Previews (HD)
Red Lights is mostly a mixed bag of emotions. Rodrigo Cortés directs the hell out of the film, with lots of stylized imagery and an almost ghostly atmosphere, but that gets canceled out by the film’s suffering script. Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver help lift the film higher, but then Elizabeth Olsen’s almost pointless inclusion brings the film down.
The Blu-Ray presentation speaks for itself. The video and audio areas get high marks, while the generic special features brush up briefly on the subject matter, acting more as basic bonus pieces to fill up the disc.
There’s a balance of good and bad that teeters back-and-forth until the film’s disappointing and slightly confusing ending that sort of pulls things out of a hat at random. Cortés deserves credit for his ability to direct, but not write. I’m afraid he’s just not capable of doing the two with a story this large.
Red Lights is proof that Rodrigo Cortés knows how to shoot a film and make it look gorgeous. It's also proof that a cast list as strong as this one still can't overcome a weak script that fizzles out by the second act.