“Red Lights” promisingly starts with an intriguing matter to entertain us and then disappointingly exits with an ending too easy and simple compared to what it has played with. Although it maintains well the dramatic suspense between science and its opponent during its first half, but what eventually happens in its lackluster finale feels like a compromised ending considering the stakes it has raised from the beginning.
Maybe Because I do not believe paranormal activities a lot, I enjoyed how Dr. Margaret Matheson(Sigourney Weaver) and his assistant Tom Buckley(Cillian Murphy) investigate several paranormal activities. With the help of science, these skeptic scientists have debunked many ‘paranormal’ cases while gaining considerable reputation(or infamy) in their field. In fact, Matheson also has a college lecture on how much our eyes can be easily fooled by so-called psychics. Do you know that how much easy it is to shake or lift a table while not being noticed by others under the right conditions?
So far, they have had solid successes with their cases in spite of their tight budget, but now they come across a guy who can be an opponent of their lifetime. Simon Silver(Robert De Niro), a famous psychic who suddenly retired after a questionable incident a long time ago, recently makes a surprise comeback with no apparent reason. He gives the demonstrations of his supernatural power to the audiences again, and he becomes as popular as before with his shows, and that naturally draws the attention of our two scientists.
While Matheson does not prefer to get involved with Silver due to her unpleasant experience with him in the past, Buckley gets obsessed with debunking him despite her sound advice. He has his own personal reason for that; when he was young, her mother followed a wrong advice from a psychic when she should have gone to hospital, and she died consequently. That must have been quite an impact to him, because he has assisted Matheson in their shabby laboratory filled with the secondhand equipments instead of pursuing a more promising career as a talented physicist.
Determined to prove that Silver is a charlatan, Buckley begins his investigation, but it seems something strange is going on. While it is quite hard to find anything suspicious from Silver, weird and unexplainable things keep happening around Buckley and Matheson. Buckely is especially disturbed by what happens during one of Silver’s shows while he tries to detect any trace of tricks. Is it possible that Silver does have a supernatural power as he has claimed? Or is it just his another trick to fool and defeat his opponents?
The director/writer Rodrigo Cortés previously made an impressive debut with that unforgettably claustrophobic thriller “Buried”(2010), where its main character must quickly find a way to get out of his dreadful circumstance which still makes me wince whenever I think about it. Though the story of “Red Lights“ has a far more opened and loosened than that movie, Cortés keeps the wheels turning at least during its first half. The movie is set with the good ambience to stick our attention to its mystery, and it is certainly helped a lot by good actors who do their respective jobs well.
The mystery revolves around whether Silver really has a psychic power or not, and Robert De Niro amply exudes shady theatricality through his commanding presence whenever his character appears in front of the audiences. When those bent steel spoons appeared on the screen, I instantly thought about how Uri Geller fooled people, but De Niro effectively suggests the other possibility through his theatrical performance.
Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver are competent as the characters who are slowly shaken by the possibility that their whole works may be demolished by the power they do not believe much; If they are proved to be wrong, then it will be the end of their research career forever, Weaver has been good at playing no-nonsense characters, and I liked the scene where her character points out to Dr. Shackleton(Toby Jones), the other researcher in her college who has tried to prove the existence of supernatural power scientifically, that his recent experiment has a major flaw to undermine the whole result. Murphy is well-cast as a man with growing anxiety, and he keeps the story in motion even while it loses considerable plausibility around the third act.
Because the movie has good elements with lots of potentials, it is disappointing to see the story going through its weak third act and then arriving at its rather flat resolution, which may not be predictable but awkward and artificial instead. I understand that such a story like that usually has a few possible ways for ending, so that kind of the resolution may be understandable, but I am still not unsatisfied with the story due to its several flaws and gaps. Because many parts of the story remain unclear, I still wonder about the motive behind the violent moment near the climax. And I think the movie could have utilized De Niro’s character more to make its mystery meatier,
At least, “Red Lights” is not a tedious thriller. I appreciated its nice moments including a tense scene where Buckley and Matheson skillfully works on one of their interesting cases, and I went along with it for a while at least for an hour. But I walked out of the screening room while less satisfied than when I watched “Buried” in 2010. That movie was a good dense thriller from the beginning to the end – this movie turns out to be not so good in the end in spite of its nice beginning.