Red Lights is a bit of a mess, there are some solid ideas to it, but it doesn’t come off as well as it could have. It does feature a solid cast including Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen, Joely Richardson, and Toby Jones.
Dr. Margaret Matheson (Weaver) is a skeptic who wants not to believe, but to understand. She has been investigating possible paranormal activity for a large portion of her career and has debunked those who perpetrate them. She is joined not only in her investigations but in her university teaching by Dr. Tom Buckley (Murphy).
When a purported psychic, Simon Silver (De Niro), resurfaces after a thirty-year absence following the events of a tragic show, Tom is determined to investigate him, to out him as the hoax that Margaret believes he is.
With the help of one of their students, Sally (Olsen), they begin their investigations into other psychics and phenomena, proving time and again that they are nothing more than hoaxes. And yet, all of them seem determined to continue their investigations, whether to prove that such things aren’t possible, or cling to the possibility that there is more to their philosophies.
The first half of the film is solidly paced, the performances and story are engaging. When the second half kicks in, it doesn’t feel as tight as the first half, unspooling, unweaving. And while there is an explanation for these things as the narrative plays out, the way it’s executed doesn’t do it justice.
The narrative reminds you to observe, to pay attention but to not necessarily believe your eyes. That for me gave away one of the surprises because it was very easy to suss out. The performances, however, let you enjoy those moments, even if you see them coming.
I loved seeing De Niro in a bit of a genre thriller, and Weaver, Murphy, and Olsen are great. I always delight in seeing Toby Jones, and his character is an interesting foil for Weaver’s Matheson.
As seemingly paranormal events build up around the film’s characters, it brings a number of questions to mind on whether the possibility of such things can happen. I like a sense of ambiguity when it comes to films like this, and this one seems to waver a bit to much before landing solidly on one side of the argument.
That being said, there were some nice surprises that came along through the narrative, and I love how some of the debunking is revealed. While not a great film, it’s definitely an interesting film. If the second half of the film wasn’t quite so muddled it would work better, but it was a better film than the rating on IMDB led me to believe.