Review : Red Lights (2012)
"Do you believe?"
Released (UK) , Rated 15. Runtime: 113 minutes (1 hours, 53 minutes).
Official Synopsis: Psychologist Margaret Matheson and her assistant study paranormal activity, which leads them to investigate a world-renowned psychic who has resurfaced years after his toughest critic mysteriously passed away.
Blue Corner Review, by Pete
Added August 1st, 2012
Released very much under the radar, filling one of the seemingly few release windows this summer that doesn’t feature a comic book hero or a sequel, the combination of a strong leading cast and an interesting subject matter should have been deserving of the audience constantly complaining of a lack of original material being released at the present time. Sadly, the far from packed screening suggests that the latest outing for Buried Director Rodrigo Cortés may have been too low profile to have even registered with most.
Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are the University-funded scientists specialising in debunking apparent paranormal events and ability, travelling across the USA as they investigate the purported faith healers, ghost whispers, mentalists and other charlatans who profit from preying on those wanting, if not needing, to believe in the hope they offer. Matheson is both the lead and public face of the duo, having dedicated most of her life to Agnosticism, ably assisted by younger sidekick physicist-turned-assistant Buckley. Opening with the two investigating a family home thought to be housing poltergeist, further exacerbated by a medium also contacted by the family holding a séance in the darkened dining room, the root cause of the strange ‘bumps in the night’ is quickly attributed to the mischievous daughter; the medium is essentially dismissed out of hand.
Shrouded in a veil of mystery is Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) – the now-reclusive celebrity psychic, celebrated during the 1970s before his greatest public critic suspiciously died of a heart attack. With a public announcement telling of his return from his self-imposed exile from public life for a limited one-off tour, it is of little surprise that Buckley is eager to take on what he sees as their greatest challenge to date – to take down Silver and discredit his claims. The notion of refacing her nemesis, however – the one person to have ever made her doubt her seemingly unshakable beliefs – is a step too far for Matheson, refusing point-blank to further her involvement with Silver.
As Buckley becomes increasingly entrenched within his investigation into this seemingly mysterious world of Silver, his obsession and paranoia increases; identifying the truth behind this man and solving the puzzle of what’s real and what’s illusion appearing to become more and more dangerous with each step, yet the answers remain elusively just out of reach. For all the scientific apparatus and testing put in place by Professor Shackleton (Toby Jones), it looks increasingly as though Silver may be the first to beat the testing – following the expressly mentioned Occam’s razor, this leaves the only possibility being the previously unthinkable.
The finale, serving up a double helping of twisty goodness, is possibly one of the more controversial in recent years, primarily thanks to the plot issues that the second of said twists throws up. The first concerning Silver’s sight was expected and, as a result, slightly disappointing. Certainly, there was a feeling of having been let down as this expected plot turn played out on-screen, but tempered at least in part by the reveal of Buckleys true nature. Even now, I feel slightly conflicted about the latter, although from the perspective that it left something to ponder, discuss and reflect on post-credits I would have to conclude that it was a successful inclusion. In many ways one of the big problems for any film trying to answer the ‘unanswerable’ questions raised is that any eventual outcome will have flaws – being a big fan of the open-ended option, there was certainly justification for that approach here, and yet I am glad they chose the arguably braver (and arguably more ‘Shyamalanian’) route.
There was never any question over the ability of the primary cast, although this was by far the most impressive outing I’ve seen from Di Niro in some time, feeling far less of a ‘called in’ performance than we have come to expect over recent years – equally, this was also to be probably my favourite showing from Weaver, and both had the chance to shine with some enjoyable monologues. It’s just a shame that the two did not get more of a chance to interact on-screen. I tend to be of the opinion that Murphy can hold his own against most (criminally underused) and, whilst Elizabeth Olsen had little to do other than being a third wheel used to move some dialogue to serve the viewer with answers – a fairly thankless role at the best of times – cannot be faulted.
A confession: I’m a complete sucker for movies exploring thematic, faith-based issues and mixing that with elements of theatrical horror, and much of my scoring in this instance certainly reflects that. Elements of the movie do make little sense retrospectively – the purpose of Silver’s monologue to a silent Buckley, for example, whilst a good and impressively tense scene, seems at odds with the financial motivation of Silver himself. Why would this have been allowed to have taken place, with the findings of the university due to create the buzz needed/wanted for Silver’s final show regardless? Reminiscent in some ways of The Prestige, the development of the main characters managed to keep us guessing until the final moments – a rare feat. Said finale was both flawed yet enjoyable, even feeling slightly at odds with the film that preceded it in some respects, and yet I can overlook my issues with that on the basis of how much I appreciated the movie as a whole (I would like to have seen the ‘recap’ following the big reveal skipped entirely though). Will it stand up to a repeat viewing? I’m not sure, but I’m certainly willing to try.