[Review] – Red Lights

6 Aug

Title: Red Lights
Year: 2012
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Writer: Rodrigo Cortés
Starring: Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen, Joely Richardson, Toby Jones
MPAA Rating: R, language and some violence
Runtime: 113 min
IMDb Rating: 6.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 30%
Metacritic: 36

My first encounter with the work of director Rodrigo Cortés happened in 2010, the first year I started reviewing movies. It was a film named Buried, which was truly spectacular, and I ended up giving an A- to, ranking 29th out of the 210 films I saw that year. So I was looking forward to see what he did next, and as the cast started shaping out for this project I grew more excited.

Especially because Elizabeth Olsen was part of that cast. And, if you’ve been reading this blog regularly, then you know what I think of Ms. Olsen, who last year blew me away with her debut performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, which I ranked as the second best of the year by an actress in a leading role. So I’ve been keeping an eye on her, as one of the most impressive young actresses around, and she’s already been in two other films so far this year, Silent House and Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding, two films that she didn’t get a chance to shine in, and that weren’t that great (I gave them a B- and C+, respectively). Well, it pains me to say that we’ll have to keep on waiting for her to display greatness again, as Red Lights is just fodder.

The film is about these two paranormal researchers, Dr. Margaret Matheson and Tom Buckley, played by Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy, and they dedicate themselves to debunking those who claim to be mind readers, ghost whisperers and whatever kind psychic you can think of, doing so be detecting what Matheson calls “red lights”, the subtle tricks that give away the falseness of these alleged supernatural acts. And then Simon Silver, played by Robert De Niro, a legendary blind psychic comes out of retirement after three decades. But instead of going after him too, Matheson, who once was his most fearless critic, tells Buckley to back off Silver.

As you might imagine, however, Tom doesn’t buck off the case, and is hellbent on proving that the tremendously popular, and, as far as anyone can tell, authentically psychic Silver. He becomes kind of obssessed with finding out the truth about Silver, enlisting the help of his star student, Sally, played by Ms. Olsen, but finding it hard for his scientific mind to get to the bottom of the supernatural abilities Silver displays.

Like I said, and as you probably though by reading those names, this cast is actually good, and they do their very best here, but Red Lights just doesn’t have enough to be considered good at all. This is a film that’s all about one big revelation that’s not really all that surprising or thrilling, and that right when it reaches that super messy and loud climax will provide the kind of twist that’s made M. Night Shyamalan the source of jokes in his past few films, delivering something that’s just totally ludicrous and that will no doubt leave you totally frustrated and mad.

What’s worse is that for the first two acts or so it kind of works, it works because of a couple of scenes and because it kind of suggests that, by the end, it will have something to say. And yet, not only does that ending has absolutely nothing to say, even though it continues to act as though it does, but it just absolutely falls apart. And it was sad, you know, because the start was indeed quite promising and compelling, getting to tell us about the debunking of the supernatural by the scientists, I liked that and I thought a good thriller could come out of it, certainly, but then the ending is all about the easy “scares” and the action-y stuff and that’s just way too cheap.

Like I said, I really admired Mr. Cortés’ previous film, and in a way this too suggests that he certainly knows how to structure a movie and keep you in his grip and get your interest, because he certainly achieves that in the first half or so, it’s just that he was unlucky with how the ending turned out, I guess. The first 20 minutes of this one suggests that we’re in for one of the best thrillers we’ve seen in a while, giving us some nice scares and then having these two characters telling us what we just saw, showing us how they debunk these frauds. And then introducing this huge show-man of a psychic, who may be the one that’s not a fraud. I ate that up, I thought that was an awesome set-up.

Those parts worked like crazy because they were so smart, because you get discussions that are stimulating and you can’t stop watching, but then the fights start being less intellectual and veering more towards the physical side and you just think that this is conventional stuff you’ve seen way too many times before. And then, of course, you have that absolutely bonkers finale that’s just not at all what this movie needed, even though it certainly thinks the opposite. It’s a pity that this fell through. Still, consider me still eagerly waiting for the next perfect Elizabeth Olsen performance (she has Josh Radnor‘s Liberal Arts up next) and for the next actually thrilling thriller by Rodrigo Cortés, who we know can do much better.

Grade: C

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