Then, out of the blue, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a legendary blind psychic who retired 30 years earlier after the sudden, ominous death of one of his most vocal doubters, announces that he's returning for a series of public performances. Although Silver is Matheson's Moby Dick of sorts, she's the more pragmatic of her two-person team and is reluctant to confront Silver as she -- and the dead skeptic -- did unsuccessfully decades ago. She doesn't necessarily NOT believe in the supernatural -- indeed, she thinks Silver may very well have caused his detractor's suspicious heart attack -- but she just has yet to actually witness such a miracle.
Tom, on the other hand, is young and eager to nail Silver, if not for Margaret then for future funding for their endeavors. He enlists Sally (Elizabeth Olsen), one of Margaret's pupils, in an elaborate plan to expose the psychic, but when eerie occurrences begin to plague Tom, he must confront his own (dis)belief as Silver's dangerous reach seems to stretch farther than anyone suspects.
The End Result
This inversion of the formula -- focusing on the scientific approach of the protagonists rather than the fantastic one -- is intriguing, particularly when it illuminates the fact that both believers and disbelievers perceive events through their own filters, using any new experience to justify their own preconceived notions. Cortés' script is admirably high-minded in concept, but because of this, it suffers in stretches on the emotional side, particularly when the third act devolves into pompous speechifying about life, perception and faith.
It's these climactic moments that deliver the biggest bang in the film -- for better and worse. Just when you're ready to write off the ending as a loud, overblown mess, it delivers a kidney punch of a twist that more or less redeems the script -- or, at the very least, demands the entire film be re-watched and picked apart for holes that leave lingering questions unanswered.
Red Lights is an attractively shot film that, compared to the claustrophobic Buried, allows Cortés more spatial freedom, but at times the distractingly jittery camerawork makes it feel like he had too much rope with which to work. Earnest performances from Weaver and Murphy make them standouts amongst the superb cast, but Olsen is more or less wasted in a shallow role that serves a purpose only at the tail end of the movie. De Niro is the biggest disappointment, though, seeming to go through the motions without instilling the sense of fear or dread his character should impart. Instead, he comes off as, well, Robert De Niro (Even another actor who portrays a young Silver in the film just seems to be doing a De Niro impression.). Even worse, during the climax, when he finally ramps up the energy, he becomes a cartoonish super villain who threatens to undermine the surprise ending.
- Acting: B- (De Niro sleepwalks and Olsen is underutilized, but Weaver and Murphy make a great team.)
- Direction: C+ (Attractively lensed, but has some jarring camerawork, and the timing of some scares is a bit off.)
- Script: C (A great twist ending brings back to earth a story that seemed to be veering out of control and into an irredeemably corny direction.)
- Gore/Effects: C+ (One particularly gnarly gore effect.)
- Overall: C+ (Ambitious and smartly conceived, though the script and the overall execution lacks the oomph to make anything other than the twist ending memorable.)
Red Lights is directed by Rodrigo Cortés and is rated R by the MPAA for language and some violence. Release date: July 13, 2012.