Review : Red Lights (2012)
"Do you believe?"
Released (UK) , Rated . 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.
Red Corner Review, by Lisa
Added August 1st, 2012
So it could be that I have found yet another film that I am simply not smart enough to get. Or perhaps it was just the culmination of little sleep and a second consecutive 13hr shift but by the end credits I already knew I would have to see this film again. It left me with questions but in all the right ways. It is original, well acted and it keeps you guessing!
I admit from the outset the trailer excited me and I thought this very well might be a film that exceeds my expectations and it really did. The story begins with Psychologist and de-bunker Dr. Margaret Matheson and her assistant Dr. Tom Buckley (physicist) from the University off to visit folks who believe they have a paranormal problem. Margaret goes right along and de bunks them and that’s that. Along the way in her 30 year career, she has seen it all and teaches a class on it, which is handy for the audience as we get let in on a few things along the way.
Famous blind psychic/paranormal showman Simon Silver is back in town, out of retirement and is going to do a couple of gigs. Tom wants to investigate him but Margaret is reluctant. You see she has a son and he is in a coma and way back 30 years ago during a panel interview, Silver hit a nerve with her which made her question herself and the question was related to her son’s persistent vegetative state. We get the impression that she is a little bit afraid of Silver though she would probably not admit it, though she does tell Tom he is ‘dangerous’.
At this point I was thinking… “The Exorcist (1973) anyone?” Margaret (old and wise mentor) is going to die and something will happen to make a believer out of Tom (young and naive). Tom resolutely dodges any personal questions which come his way, but he we aren’t bothered; he is just that kind of guy. Cillian Murphy plays to all his quirky strength in this role and succeeds in bringing a foray of emotions to the fore of this complex character, across the course of the film we come to understand that Cillian’s character Tom really wants to know what’s going on. He is blinkered, he is dogged and he is quite frankly obsessed feeling he has to know the truth.
A lot of people say that Robert de Niro can only play Robert De Niro in a film, but I would have to disagree with that and Robert as famous paranormal showman Silver shows he is in fine menacing form. It is a quiet menace certainly, but undeniably present. If I were to compare it I would liken it to his performance in Cape Fear (1991), because it is not so much what the character is saying but how he is saying it. This quiet menace is one of the strengths of the film in my view, as is the characterisation of silver and also the sheer presence De Niro manages to command. This film does atmosphere really well! As for the tension, there were a few moments within where the filmmakers went for the jumping out your seat moments (and yes, I jumped!)
Sigourney weaver’s character was also quite good but I think perhaps we could have left out the vegetative state son part of the plot. Joely Richardson too was commendable as Silver’s agent – ice queen Monica Hansen. I think Sigourney works well in the Role of Alpha female and in that teaching capacity, her role in this film reminded me a little of her role in Avatar or Gorilla’s in the mist (1988). This is a woman who can play a nonsense scientist with ease and just a touch of intellectual snobbery which is required! We see this best in the interview where she is set off against Joely’s character and ends up losing her temper and walking off set. We see it again where she quickly brings research scientist and university colleague Dr. Paul Shackleton back to earth with a bang when she exposes the silly weakness in his research methodology.
We know that Tom has a very high regard for Margaret (what’s with the mysterious and rare heart conditions? Ooohhh, mysterious…) and so when she dies he is both lost and upset and his need to validate her work, and in the absence of her guiding hand he is now unrestrained to follow his instincts and investigate Silver. Throughout the film right up until the end there is this sense that you really don’t know what is going to happen. Is Silver a fake? How does he do it?
We take each piece of information given to us and we slowly chew it over in anticipation of the next. Certainly in the scene where Silver has returned to town, Matheson gets the silent phone call and the spoon bends in the cup we are left thinking ‘uh-oh’ and that feeling doesn’t really seem to go away. Following Margaret’s death the plot take a more cat-and-mouse approach to Silver vs. Tom. Strange things start to happen to Tom. Silent phone calls, dead birds hitting the window, all acts of psychological intimidation to get Tom off the case? or genuine creepy paranormal warnings?
In the scene where Tom goes into the viewing room during one of Silver’s shows is one of the bets scenes in the film. Silver is delivering a monologue and out of nowhere he appears to hear the flick of a switch where Tom is frantically trying to start his science-technology recording and measuring equipment and when he does, the second he flicks the switch, it seems like Silver has heard it. Next thing the glass starts shattering and the walls and the ground are shaking. How could this happen?
Scene with the salt and the red velvet curtain was downright creepy but brought with it the silent intensity evoked within the audience as these two face off against one another. We are wondering what is going on and waiting quietly for something to happen. This is one of the scenes I am hoping to understand better following a second viewing of the film.
The love interest, whose name I have already forgotten, I was convinced was a sidekick or a stooge hired by Silver to spy on Matheson, pass back information and try and get close to Tom. I was disappointed a tad that I was wrong but that was easily surpassed by my joy that I was wrong, and the filmmakers would not make it that easy for me.
Silver agrees to undergo a series of tests at the university to have his powers tested in an empirical fashion. Tom wants in and through persistent bulling of Shackelton played by British Actor Toby Jones …. He gets his way. He is there as merely an observer and when they tests have concluded Tom is convinced that something was happening that he could not see and before he heads of to confront Silver at his final show he sets his students the task of examining every piece of footage to see how Silver does it. Is Silver a fake? Or is this the real thing? But the question also remains that why would Silver agree to be tested. Were these all ploys to draw out Tom, knowing that Tom would not be able to resist, or was it that he was so arrogant that he didn’t think the team would be smart enough to clock on to how he was outwitting them? The latter explanation is indeed a plausible one. Matheson hints at the over funded nature of the research department in the university headed by Shackleton and suggests that Silver has a hand in this. If that were the case then he would be aware of the work of inept scientist and believer and Shackelton does state to Buckley that Silver personally approved each member of the research team.
I particularly enjoyed being able to view the research film as I liked that little homage to the scientific movies of the 1950’s to the 1970’s. Something has changed for Tom. He is a lot calmer. There is more of a purposeful urgency about him. Things start happening in the lab when he is conversing with one of his students, when they hear a bang he simply says ‘dead bird – ignore it’ or something along those lines which raised a laugh. Tom is focused and he is ready for a show down. Leaving his student with his mission to de-bunk Silver, Tom has left the lab and makes his way to Silvers show. He watches the first half but also succeeds in getting beaten up pretty badly in the toilets of the auditorium during the interval for Silver’s show.
At this point in the audience we are aware of a climatic beginning we just don’t know where it will end. Tom enters the auditorium in front of the crowd in the second half and he begins a conversation with Silver. Thing is I don’t understand Buckley’s speech in the auditorium. Maybe I wasn’t really meant to. But you felt he was pushing Silver, as Silver was shouting ‘don’t you push me, don’t come closer etc.’
This was sliced up with the students watching sections of the tape and my suspected stooge figuring out Silver’s method to beat one of the tests and they discover what I gathered much much earlier on in the film was that Silver is not, in fact, blind.
So back in the auditorium scenes we were waiting for something to happen. Tom calls him a fake. Then it happens. The earth starts shaking and plaster is falling off the ceiling. Lamps are combusting and all sorts. But this time it is Tom that is doing it. Silver is shouting ‘how did you do that?’ over and over at Tom who just turns round and walks away.
And then we get to the head scratcher section of the film; the ending monologue. Tom walks away in the Rain and then he makes it stop. He talks about life after death and we see him turning off the ventilator machine for Matheson’s son. He speaks to Matheson as if she was there and he said I did what you would have wanted. Eh? What was that then? And so at the end we know that Tom has special powers and really really wanted to know if there was anyone like him.
The annoying women in the cinema behind me whispered to each other ‘he must be Jesus’. What???? How do you work that out? I dunno what he must be or what he was, but I can say that this was one of the best films I have seen in some time and I enjoyed it from start to end. I was so grateful to the filmmakers that on this occasion they kept me guessing right till the end and I walked away with questions that could very well be answered with a second viewing. Just what I like!