Red Lights Review: Fun, Tense But Not As Accomplished As Buried

‘Red Lights’ is fun to watch when it’s floating six feet off the ground but some of the fun disappears when you see the stage wire that is holding them there.

rating: 3.5

Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) a psychologist, and her assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) make a living out of investigating and debunking paranormal activity. But when the long retired blind spoon bender and psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) promises to make a comeback, Buckley decides that its time to debunk the alleged fraud once and for all. However, shortly after Buckley embarks on the investigation he soon realizes that there might be more to Silver than meets his milky white eyes. From director Rodrigo Cortes, €˜Red Lights€™ is his long awaited return after 2010's man in a box thriller €˜Buried€™. Where €˜Buried€™ was an exercise in creative camera work and "I'll never tell" plot development, €˜Red Lights€™ is more of an out and out supernatural thriller with "you'll never know" story arcs. Cortes steadily builds a Jenga mountain of tricks, turns and red herrings, whilst we get the sneaking feeling that at any point it could all tumble in a messy heap. Luckily for us then, that €˜Red Lights€™ manages to stay up long enough to be end game rather than game over. Without trying to give too much away, €˜Red Lights€™ is firmly in the €˜Lost€™ camp of storytelling. Things happen which are so out there, so unexplainable; that you feel it will inevitably lead to a ridiculous cop out finale. This is a film that attacks the very idea of the supernatural, yet somehow manages to firmly present the argument that it could well be wrong about this. The plot moves at a steady pace, and barring a few awkward edits and deflating sequences, it keeps your interest and has you guessing throughout. All films have to come to an end, and €˜Red Lights€™ seems to approach its own finale with caution. Bursts of action and "gotcha" reveals are slipped out just before the third act finish, to ensure that the final unveiling becomes closer to an epilogue than an actual showdown. The more film literate viewer will have figured out the ending long before it comes, as it really is paint by numbers conclusion. Yet somehow, this fact falls by the wayside, due to the whole event being so muted and underwhelming. Cortes - whether intentionally or by happy accident - never tries too hard to raise our expectations throughout the film, thus making the end result decidedly inoffensive yet passable. He presents us with enough throwaway details and nods of the head, that we realize its up to us to put the pieces together. There is a sort of "this is what happened" moment, but even that feels less like a self-congratulatory pat on the back and more like an afterthought for the uninitiated. It€™s with this then that my main criticism with the film sits. For a man who set the entirety of his last film in a coffin, you€™d expect something braver with the subject material of €˜Red Lights€™. The set up is strong, the story develops well, but the finished product just feels all too safe. The cast is reasonably strong, and you will be pleased to know that Robert De Niro maintains a level of dignity throughout. €˜Red Lights€™ is one of those intermittent decent performances that have sprung up from time to time in De Niro€™s questionable filmography since the late 90€™s; it€™s good to see Bob on steady ground. Elizabeth Olsen doesn€™t do much as the sidekick love interest, but that is more the fault of Cortes, as her recent performances have all be stellar. Sigourney Weaver gives one of her best turns in recent years, and sells the role of Margaret Matheson with such nuance, you really feel the weight of her presence. Cillian Murphy carries a large chunk of the film, and proves yet again that he is one of the most underrated actors of this generation. His intensity and boyish submission to the often-frustrating nature of the character develop into a portrayal, which is both tragic and magnetic. €˜Red Lights€™ wont be making any careers, but it wont be breaking them either. It€™s the perfect Saturday afternoon movie. There is enough tension to keep you gripped, but not enough brilliance that you€™ll think it was worth the angst. Much like the charlatans it depicts, €˜Red Lights€™ is fun to watch when it€™s floating six feet off the ground but some of the fun disappears when you see the stage wire that is holding them there. Red Lights is released in UK cinemas from Friday June 15th and in the US from Friday July 13th.
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Part critic-part film maker, I have been living and breathing film ever since seeing 'Superman' at the tender age of five. Never one to mince my words, I believe in the honest and emotional reaction to film, rather than being arty or self important just for cred. Despite this, you will always hear me say the same thing - "its all opinion, so watch it and make your own." Follow me @iamBradWilliams