Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Screenplay: Rodrigo Cortes
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, Joely Richardson, Craig Roberts
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 113 mins
Psychologist Dr Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and her sidekick Dr Tom Buckley (Murphy) divide their time between unmasking phoney mediums at fake seances, and debunking the paranormal in a more conventional fashion through university teaching. Matheson has devoted 30 years to the task and never once wavered in her conviction that there is nothing whatsoever on the other side. When renowned psychic Simon Silver (De Niro) arrives in town after a long absence from the public eye Matheson seems shaken by his presence and Buckley is determined to find out why, by investigating Silver and proving once and for all that he’s a fake.
As with so many films I went into Red Lights really wanting to like it, and it does look promising on paper. The casting is interesting: the pairing of Weaver and Murphy is unconventional and of course there’s De Niro; plus it’s been called this year’s Sixth Sense. I did think this would probably be unhelpful in building false expectations but…it must have worked because I went to see it.
The film isn’t particularly scary, if you rate it on the number of moments that truly make you jump. After Matheson and Buckley unveil their first faker the story settles into more of a mystery, not so much a ‘Who dunnit’ as a ‘How do they do it?’. The first half builds tension nicely and you’re looking forward to some clever Prestige type reveal at the end but this is where it all goes wrong. If the film had tried to be more Prestige than Sixth Sense I might have been impressed by the cleverly worked out plot. Instead there’s an attempt at an “It was this way all along'” twist, that just doesn’t quite work. The writing just isn’t good enough to create the ending the writer obviously wanted. Not surprising by that point after so much of the story has been told to us in ‘on the nose’ dialogue, rather than shown to us in action.
Another reason that it fails to impress is the lack of depth in the characters that stops us getting close to them. The secrets in Tom Buckley’s past are never properly revealed despite the obvious hints early on in the plot, Weaver’s part is cut short and there’s an almost pointless role for Elizabeth Olsen as the student assistant, whom we presume is having a relationship with Buckley but it’s so irrelevant to the plot that we don’t really care. The acting doesn’t particularly stand out but I think this is due more to weak characters than poor performances. (Although watch out for young British actor Craig Roberts struggling with an American accent).
The production design is slightly retro and has you guessing as to exactly what year it’s meant to be. The greyness adds to the creepy atmosphere but it would have been better not to reveal the year. When we find out it’s 2011 it’s quite hard to believe as the furniture, and Buckley’s ghost-buster style monitoring equipment seem out of date. The music and the camera work also draw attention to themselves slightly too much as if trying to make up for the writing instead of subtly supporting it
This film was probably a really good idea once but needed to be in the hands of a better writer to truly impress. It’s a shame, I really did want to like it…