Psychologist Margaret Matheson and her assistant study paranormal activity, which leads them to investigate a world-renowned psychic who has resurfaced years after his toughest critic mysteriously passed away.
The skeptical psychologist Dr. Margaret Matheson and her assistant, the physicist, Tom Buckley, are specialists in disclosing fraudulent paranormal phenomena. When the famous psychic Simon Silver reappears to his public after many years of absence, Tom becomes obsessed to investigate whether Silver is a fraud or not. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In the video lab where Buckley works there is a copy of the famous poster "I Want To Believe" from The X-Files, but the quote is changed to "I Want To Understand". See more »
During the classroom scene about 13 minutes in, the teacher of the class draws four X's around the circle: top, left, bottom, and right. When she draws the X on the right, she does not lift the marker and did it quickly, making the X look more like a fish shape because it was connected. The very next camera angle shows all four X's as full X's. See more »
In 2010, director Rodrigo Cortes burst onto the scene with the unique, expertly stylized chamber piece Buried. He took a simple premise, put Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for 90 minutes, and made a gripping, suspenseful picture that didn't let up for a moment. For his follow-up, he worked from his own script which delved into the world of paranormal activity and whether or not there was any legitimacy to those who make their career out of it. Red Lights centers on psychologist Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), two career debunkers of the paranormal who, when they aren't teaching Matheson's classes, spend their time traveling and disproving believed supernatural events.
Cortes spent many months researching the world that he takes on here, and all of that education really comes across on the screen. Matheson speaks with an appropriate intellect on the matter, and Cortes doesn't skimp away from the intricacies of her teachings in order to lazily give more attention to the flashier parts of the narrative. There are some neat tricks that he lends the audience through her, and both Weaver and Murphy carry the details of the script very well. The film starts off promising thanks in part to this, but in larger part due to the chemistry between these two actors.
In the quieter moments with the two of them, you can truly feel the years of history in the way they converse and interact with one another. There's a warmth, a true familiarity there that is hard for actors to put across on screen but the two of them are able to hit the right notes all the way through. I quickly became invested in their relationship with one another, and there's one big scene where Matheson reveals a dark part of her past to Buckley that I found heartbreaking, due entirely to the strength of their performances.
This tale from her past concerns the supposed psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), and it's with Silver's return to the spotlight after years of hiding from the public eye that gives Red Lights its main narrative push. Buckley wants to expose Silver as a fraud, but Matheson is reluctant to get involved with him and it is Buckley's obsession that ends up driving the back half of the picture. Unfortunately, this is where the script really begins to lose its way, as Cortes' focus shifts drastically to the more conventional narrative of Buckley trying to defeat Silver and the final act is nothing beyond a showdown between the two of them. De Niro hams it up to an extreme in the role of Silver, but it's the rapid unraveling of Buckley that damages the film the most.
After beginning the picture as a calm and focused intellectual, his obsession with bringing down Silver turns Buckley into a pathetic, increasingly unlikeable jerk who just abandons everyone around him and eventually turns borderline psychotic in his rage. There's an alarmingly underdeveloped romantic subplot between him and one of Matheson's students (a wasted Elizabeth Olsen), which features one of the more unintentionally hilarious moments of the picture, as Buckley drives her somewhere (I assume her parents?), frantically drops her bags on the sidewalk and peels off as quickly as he got there. This sharp, distracting descent of sanity with Buckley all culminates in the script's dreadful deus ex machina final revelation, one whose absurdity is only surpassed by the laziness in the overly-scored montage used to explain it all to the audience.
Red Lights begins as a promising journey for two characters, but once the focus shifts gears onto Silver the flaws in the narrative derail the remainder of the product. Still, I can't go as far to say that I hated the picture by any means. With the quality of work that Weaver and Murphy put towards here, I was quite impressed with the first half of the picture and while the back end damages it beyond repair, there was still enough that I admired for me to not entirely dislike it. Rodrigo Cortes has shown at least twice now (I haven't seen his first picture, The Contestant) that he is a skilled director with a great visual eye that can absorb the viewer in the atmosphere he sets out to establish. On a directorial front he does solid work here and I look forward to the next picture that he lends his hand to, I'm just hoping that he elects to work from someone else's script instead.
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