Veteran paranormal researchers Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) debunk fraudulent claims of ghost whispering, faith healing and other psychic phenomena by detecting what Matheson calls "red lights," the subtle tricks behind every staged supernatural occurrence. But when the legendary blind psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) comes out of retirement after 30 years, his once-fearless adversary Matheson warns Buckley to back off, fearing reprisal from the powerful Silver.
Determined to discredit Silver, Buckley and his star student (Elizabeth Olsen) use every tool at their disposal to uncover the truth behind the charismatic, spoon-bending, mind reader. But Buckley is forced to reexamine his own core beliefs as his quest builds to a mind-blowing conclusion in this taut psychological thriller from award-winning writer and director Rodrigo Cortes (Buried).
Director Rodrigo Cortes' first english-language film Buried (starring Ryan Reynolds), was shot in real-time inside of a coffin buried underground. The end result was praised and admonished by critics; while audiences cringed in fright from the claustrophobic atmosphere watching provoked. His second U.S. produced feature centers around another frightening phenomenon, the paranormal and/or extra sensory perception with Red Lights.
Red Lights begins just as any other paranormal-centered film would, with two scientists, Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), investigating a possible haunted house. A seance is performed, the lights drawn out aside from a sole light bulb in the middle of the table that gives off a reddish hue, and Matheson is seated with the home's inhabitants and a Medium. The table begins to shake, noises boom in the house, and everyone at the table is terrified...except Margaret. Buckley is in the other room monitoring the events on a series of machines. She looks at him, as everyone is panicking with a stone-cold expression. Margaret and Tom both know this is a hoax, and that is exactly what they were expecting. Red Lights is not a film about discovering paranormal activity or people with special gifts, such as telepathy. The story here is debunking the myth that such things or people exist; Margaret Matheson has spent the last 30-years of her career discovering frauds, and Tom Buckley is her newest partner.
Defrauding various mediums and over-publicized "healers" is an intriguing part of the story in Red Lights. The title is the term used for finding the discordant notes, the things that should not be there, that are the tricks of the trade of psychic frauds, their "red lights." The real draw, and what keeps you questioning each and every twist and turn, is Robert De Niro's character, Simon Silver. A blind psychic with whom no researcher has ever been able to disprove his gifts, bending spoons included. He is the master, and for the past thirty years has been retired--until now. His greatest nemesis is Margaret, but when news of his retirement reaches her office, and Buckley is overjoyed at the possibility to finally investigate Simon's methods Margaret warns him to keep away. The mystery as to why Margaret is afraid of Simon, and whether Simon is indeed a fraud or the real thing draws the viewer in deeper to Red Lights. The plot continually twists and turns, makes shocking revelations and captures the unknown psyche of Simon Silver with great uncertainty. You believe you know the truth, while instances continually occur that create doubt in your mind. Red Lights toys with the possibility that extra sensory perception does indeed exist, while never allowing the viewer to fully acknowledge this truth or admonish it altogether. Coincidence, chance and fact become blurred together; and the scientific versus that which cannot be explained consistently at odds with one another.
Led by an incredibly talented cast, Red Lights is intense and engrossing in its totality. Director Rodrigo Cortes proved with Buried that he fully understands how to make the audience uncomfortable, while unable to abandon the story presented for them. Red Lights performs the same way, the subject matter may be problematic, the ideas cause for conflict, but the film itself is one you do not want to abandon at any point. The final climax includes a twist you never saw coming, and that makes everything prior all the more well-crafted.
For a film centered around the paranormal, psychic, and healing professions there is not any level of fright in Red Lights. Red Lights is a psychological thriller, and aside from a couple of scenes featuring levitating bodies and lights mysteriously turning on and off the terror in the story is what you draw upon in your head. The only real horrifying element is the character of Simon Silver, with his calm demeanor that is threatening in its coldness. Constantly wearing dark glasses to cover his unseeing eyes, Simon lurks through the film as a figure you can never get close to or understand. What Simon can do, though, is terrifying as it may or may not involve murder. Red Lights is not going to give anyone nightmares, or scares that cause one to jump out of their seat. It will keep your mind alert and on-guard for what "trick" may be coming next, and a continuing feeling of impending dread for fear that someone is not going to have a happy ending.
July 13, 2012