Red Lights hooked me for the first 90 minutes before unraveling in spectacularly inept fashion. Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy play physics professors who travel around the country debunking paranormal myths and unexplained occurrences, and Robert De Niro portrays a famous blind psychic who comes out of a long retirement to challenge the pair's assertion that all things can be explained rationally. Red Lights, from Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés, gets its title from the term used to describe the tricks behind staged supernatural phenomena, and the film initially takes on a sort of "X-Files" vibe. Unfortunately, a decent set-up is spoiled by an unsatisfying ending that renders everything preceding it moot. I will not completely condemn Red Lights, as its first reels are worth exploring, but the film's resolution nearly deadens its impact.
Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Murphy) travel to a potentially haunted house and discover that mischievous girls - not ghosts - are responsible for the bumps in the night. The pair then exposes the secrets of a fraudulent prophet's money-scamming healing act, which leads to his arrest. News then spreads that psychic Simon Silver (De Niro) is back in the spotlight after many years. A journalist died at one of Silver's performances, casting a shadow over his methods and sending him into hiding, and Buckley wants to quickly close the curtain on Silver again. With the help of one of his students, Sally Owen (Elizabeth Olsen), Buckley begins dissecting each of Silver's tricks to find the red lights.
Red Lights asks some interesting questions about the paranormal and probes the depths of human beliefs. Matheson reveals that she continues her work not to disprove all paranormal occurrences, but in hopes of finding one that is actually true. Matheson has a son in a coma and on life support, and refuses to let him die because she believes there is nothing for him after death. Buckley hates seeing quack prophets use trickery to prey on the sick and helpless, and fights to expose their cruel schemes. Red Lights never tackles religion, but has plenty to say on alternate realities and the afterlife, and shows the disturbing connection between slight-of-hand tricks and the nefarious motives of their purveyors.
The film remains interesting through the first hour, as Buckley becomes convinced Silver is using his powers to create disturbances in his home and office. Silver gears up for a big experiment meant to provide conclusive proof of supernatural phenomena. If Buckley and Matheson cannot disprove Silver's methods, Red Lights, in decidedly overdramatic fashion, hypothesizes that science will be changed forever. The first problem with the film is that it takes place in a world where seemingly rational people are fascinated with late-night hokum. De Niro is quite entertaining as Silver, but in no way, shape or form is he at all credible. Red Lights treats the big experiment like the potential discovery of the cure for cancer, complete with national media coverage and scholarly intrigue, but I couldn't help thinking that the only people who would care about such a performance are septuagenarians on vacation in Atlantic City.
The early science-fiction intrigue gives way to undeveloped ideas and odd sentimentality in the final act. Quite simply, Red Lights gets really stupid. Mysterious men, unnatural occurrences and unexpected deaths give way to one very slipshod conclusion that - while I won't spoil it for you - made me want to forget the film's first 90 minutes, which is too bad, because Director Cortés almost created something uniquely compelling. Red Lights is nicely acted and filmed, but proves once again that a poor ending can really scuttle a film.
The 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is quite good. Red Lights is a slick looking film, and the transfer is nicely detailed, with deep wide shots and textured close-ups. The color scheme is somewhat dreary, but the cool blues and greys are nicely saturated amid deep blacks. There is some minor crush and bit of banding in outdoor scenes, but skin tones are accurate and compression artifacts are absent.
The 5.1 Dolby True HD soundtrack features crystal-clear dialogue, which is appropriately layered amid effects and score. The surrounds are used quite a bit during the supernatural occurrences, and directional dialogue and sound pans are well executed. The film is often quiet, but the soundtrack's range is excellent, ensuring good clarity throughout. An English 2.0 stereo mix is also included, as are English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This one-disc set is housed in a Blu-ray eco-case, which is wrapped in a nice slipcover with a front flap that opens to reveal characters from the film.
Extras include Cast Interviews (11:27/HD), with input from Weaver, De Niro, Murphy and Olsen, and a Director's Interview (5:40/HD), in which Cortés reveals his inspirations for the project. The Making of Red Lights (10:41/HD) features interviews and on-set footage, and Behind the Scenes (1:47/HD) is a short look at the crew on set.
I really wanted Red Lights to build to a satisfying conclusion. Unfortunately, this thriller, about a team that uncovers the secrets behind supposed supernatural phenomena, loses its footing and tumbles into a silly, nonsensical ending. Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro and Cillian Murphy are surprisingly good here, and Director Rodrigo Cortés shows he has a good eye for staging and pacing, but Red Lights, like the false prophets it portrays, is ultimately humiliated. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.