Red Lights (2012)
Red Lights (2012)

Genre: Psychological Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: July 13th, 2012 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Rodrigo Cortés Actors: Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olsen, Robert De Niro, Joely Richardson, Toby Jones, Karen David, Craig Roberts




sychological thrillers rely heavily on intricate mysteries, clever misdirection and the audience’s belief in the characters and situations presented. “Red Lights” is no different, initially offering up the twisting plot and baffling phenomena to ratchet up the suspense; but audiences aren’t allowed to properly invest in the characters and their motives to the point that they can concern themselves with the eventual outcome. Not that anyone would believe those ramifications anyway.

Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) investigate all manner of paranormal activity, from mind readers to mystic healers to disruptive ghosts – and reveal the fraud and trickery in each of them. When notorious psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) emerges from retirement for one last series of appearances, Buckley becomes obsessed with publicly debunking the clairvoyant. Ignoring Matheson’s warnings not to intervene, Buckley and promising student Sally (Elizabeth Olson) begin their campaign to discredit Silver. But as they inch closer to the answers they seek, the unexplainable begins to outweigh the logical and the duo risks everything to uncover the truth.

Regardless of one’s own prescient abilities to foresee the winding path the plot traverses, “Red Lights” doesn’t compel the viewer to invest in the protagonists or their plight. Little backstory is provided for Buckley, Matheson, or Sally. Their personal lives are guarded and their motives shrouded in obscurity. The reasons behind Buckley’s obsession are briefly hinted, but only when it’s too late to grasp any sense of justification behind his passion. Even antagonist Simon Silver isn’t presented with a clear purpose. Is he evil? Has he done something terrible to warrant being vilified? Since direct victims or tragedies caused by his actions are never shown, it’s difficult to share in Buckley’s desire to destroy him.

Plot twists tend to appear more frequently than desired in films of this nature, but at least when they’re unpredictable the results can be entertaining. Except perhaps when the reason the future is so unforeseeable is due to the expectations of an intelligent explanation. By the time the puzzle is solved and the facts are revealed, audiences will likely be thinking about why they didn’t solve it sooner – but for the wrong reasons. Rather than focusing on devious red herrings, the holes in the plot twists come to the forefront, as do the glaring questions that no one in the film bothers to ask. Director Rodrigo Cortes’ previous film, “Buried,” showed a promise for crafty storytelling and escalating suspense, and was often praised as “Hitchcockian.” With “Red Lights,” another director comes to mind – M. Night Shyamalan – a visionary whose first few efforts were innovative and unique, but whose reliance on increasingly absurd plot twists quickly made his pictures an exercise in repetitious lunacy.

– Joel Massie

  • 3/10