Director Rodrigo Cortes made a minor splash with 2010’s Buried, a one-man thriller set inside a coffin buried beneath the ground. Looking to build on the craft and ingenuity of that low-key effort, Cortes’ Red Lights is intricate and often intriguing but falls short of realising the potential shown in Buried.
Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver star as Tom Buckley and Margaret Matheson, a pair of paranormal investigators set on debunking mediums and psychics across the country. Early on there are entertaining scenes of the two teaching a university class on how to spot the telltale signs – or ‘red lights’ – during a medium’s show before exposing cheap con artist Leonardo Palladino right in the middle of a performance.
Seeking a challenge, Tom wants to go after celebrity psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a blind mesmerist not seen since his biggest detractor dropped dead during one of his shows in the ’70’s. Silver’s comeback tour is coming to town, presenting the perfect opportunity to expose his methods but considering her history with Silver, Margaret is reluctant to get involved.
As soon as Silver appears, the mystery starts to amp up and strange things begin happening to Tom and Margaret with birds flying into windows and any number of electric objects blowing a fuse. Is Silver behind these bizarre occurrences and how can they be rationally explained?
Red Lights then heads into conventional thriller territory, the director killing time before he’s ready to show his hand with not one but two utterly predictable final twists. Though Cortes shows flashes of flair and imagination, he lacks the craft that made M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense such an engaging film with a genuinely surprising twist, if you managed to see it before it was common knowledge of course. Red Lights’ big reveals are so clunky and obvious that even the most inexperienced viewer will call them in the film’s first act.
The cast give strong performances across the board, raising the material up a notch. Murphy and Weaver are solid as the leads and there is game support from Toby Jones, Elizabeth Olsen, Joely Richardson and Submarine’s Craig Roberts. Though his output has been patchy for at least a decade now, Robert De Niro gives one of his more interesting performances of recent times here. We’re never entirely sure what Silver is capable of, supernaturally or not, and De Niro’s performance keeps up that mystique while also delivering some grandiose monologues.
It’s unfortunate then that some solid performances and interesting ideas around belief, agnosticism and the paranormal go to waste as Cortes takes the long and tedious route to get to his eventual finale which everyone could see coming a mile off. A tighter script and some better editing could’ve made this a far more thrilling affair but as it stands, Red Lights is an average thriller enlivened by an on-form cast and some encouraging flashes of creativity.