Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro in Messy ‘Red Lights’

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Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – “Red Lights” is a mess. And yet it’s also not messy enough. Allow me to explain. Rodrigo Cortes’ follows up his vastly superior “Buried” with this supernatural tale filled with plot contrivances that would make M. Night Shyamalan call bullshit and yet he does so with a direct, straightforward style when a bit less polish would have given the piece the character it is missing. The script is a mess but the production is clean. It’s nonsense on a plot level but played seriously without nearly enough personality or edge. Even the film’s undeniably talented cast can’t save it.

“Red Lights” starts with a promising series of scenes as Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her investigative partner Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) arrive at a run-down estate that is allegedly haunted. In a matter of minutes, they have not only found the source of the loud sounds in the night but debunked the psychic who has come to talk with people from the other side as long as the fee is high enough. That’s what Margaret and Tom do. They take down the charlatans who use people’s grief and willingness to believe and turn it into profit.

Red Lights
Red Lights
Photo credit: Millennium Entertainment

Tom and Margaret’s white whale is the legendary Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a psychic who disappeared many years ago after the mysterious death of his greatest skeptic and has recently returned to the spotlight after years in self-imposed exile. As Silver becomes popular again, Tom & Margaret try to decipher his magic tricks. How is he pulling it off? Or could he really be what he claims to be? Supernatural elements continue to add up while Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, and Craig Roberts play supporting roles.

The cat-and-mouse game of “Red Lights” could have been a clever one – two investigators deal with their own issues of belief as they try to cut the strings of a perceived magician who may actually be magical. It’s a very strong idea for a thriller. But Cortes makes so many mistakes with his set-up that they become the most memorable elements of his film. Other than his concept and his casting (you can’t deny that ensemble and it should be noted that none of the performances are a weakness…Murphy is the best thing about the film), Cortes consistently made bad choices at every stage of production.

First and perhaps most damagingly, he never really sets “Red Lights” in any sort of real world. Shot mostly in Spain but taking place clearly in the U.S. or Canada, I kept asking myself where the Hell these people were more often than getting involved in what they were doing. “Red Lights” is a story that requires a setting – a city of doors behind which the impossible may be possible. By never knowing where these people are – other than the last magical place on Earth where a psychic could sell out a world tour – “Red Lights” never grounds itself. It might sound like I’m picking on a small element but so much of the supernatural cinema you love is based on setting (a small town, a house, or even a well-known city like L.A., etc.) – it’s a key element of the genre that’s almost dismissed as unnecessary here.

Red Lights
Red Lights
Photo credit: Millennium Entertainment

The setting issue might not have mattered if Cortes had gone surreal with his style instead of so straightforward. There are times – like when Tom tracks Simon down to a weird, inner city room where strange things might be happening – when I thought that “Red Lights” was headed to David Lynch territory and would finally click. That’s the movie I wanted to see. “Red Lights” has elements of films like “Mulholland Drive” but takes them and plays them straight. It’s too refined, too clean-cut, and just not strange enough when one considers what it’s actually about. It has no personality.

And then there’s the twist. It’s no spoiler to say that “Red Lights” ends with a series of twists – the plot demands it given that Simon is either going to be superpowered or incredibly adept at the art of deception – but the final act of “Red Lights” just doesn’t work. It barely makes sense and it doesn’t leave viewers going back over the action of the previous 100 minutes in a new light as much as it leaves them wondering why they wasted their time.

“Red Lights” stars Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, and Craig Roberts. It was written and directed by Rodrigo Cortes. It is playing in some markets now and opens in Chicago on August 3, 2012. content director Brian Tallerico

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Manny be down's picture

"Red Lights"

This shit of a movie put me to sleep its was a mess

ziggy one of the best's picture

Red Lights

they should of put the light out on this one

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