If you look quickly at its title, “Red Lights” sounds more like a musical flick featuring hits by The Police, than a paranormal thriller by Spanish filmmaker Rodrigo Cortés. Even though “Moulin Rouge” already immortalized the song “Roxanne” on screen, that fictional movie idea would still be better to watch than this real one that Cortés wrote and directed. At least with a musical you could connect with the characters by singing along to songs by The Police. “Every little thing she does is magic…”
The story for “Red Lights” centers on Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), a university-funded team that ranks among the world’s foremost paranormal investigators. As professional skeptics, Matheson and Buckley have exposed dozens of fraudulent psychics, mediums, and faith healers. They have done this by learning to detect slight clues called “red lights,” which reveal how these supernatural occurrences are faked.
Although Tom is loyal to Matheson, he has grown frustrated with the lack of challenge in his job. That all changes once Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a world-renowned psychic, resurfaces after decades away from the public spotlight. Silver vanished 30 years ago, after his harshest critic died under mysterious circumstances.
Despite a stern warning from Matheson to leave Silver alone, Tom sets out to prove Silver is a fraud. Tom’s quest proves instantly to be a foolish one after him and his girlfriend (Elizabeth Olsen) start to experience bizarre visions and freaky events. The more difficult things get though, the harder Tom pushes. Pretty soon it’s not only Tom’s job that’s in danger, but his life too. Given the risks, he has to decide whether to abandon his mission or to press on and endure the consequences.
While the concept for this thriller is a solid one, Cortés falters in his execution of it. At first you’re fascinated to find out how to detect paranormal phonies and see the tools investigators use in the field. That excitement quickly diminishes once Cortés abandons the grounded elements of the tale for the supernatural, especially because the concept of “red lights” is never fully explored after that.
There’s nothing particularly interesting or terrifying about what happens to Tom when he believes he’s being terrorized by Silver. A couple of hallucinations, a few dead birds, and some blown out electrical equipment don’t carry a high scare factor. By the time you actually get to the final confrontation between Silver and Buckley, you’re too bored to care about the twist.
What’s the most frustrating about “Red Lights,” is its atrocious dialogue. You constantly find yourself doing a double-take when the characters are talking, wondering “Did he/she really just say something that stupid?” The best example involves an exchange between Elizabeth Olsen and Cillian Murphy where she yells, “Don’t leave me!” Of course he does, and when Murphy comes back she exclaims “I told you not to leave me!”
Weaver, Murphy, De Niro, and Olsen all give fine performances in their roles, although the dialogue really limits where they can take their characters. As a blind villain, De Niro in particular is fun to watch in “Red Lights,” but if you like seeing him as a bad guy, you’re better off watching one of his other movies instead.