Movie Reviews

‘Red Lights’: A chaotic mix of half-scares & anti-climaxes

By Zul AndraMovies - 30 July 2012 12:00 PM

‘Red Lights’: A chaotic mix of half-scares & anti-climaxes

Movie details | Photo gallery | Watch trailer | Buy tickets

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Cast: Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy

The Buzz: Filmmaker Rodrigo Cortes is best remembered for his critically acclaimed film, ‘Buried’; you know, that film which saw Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin while claustrophobically trying to stay alive with a terrible phone signal and a lighter for company.

And when the Spaniard announced writing and directing duties for his new film, ‘Red Lights,’ fans of his minimalistic-styled, psychological-led thrillers were very much excited.

The star-studded film — which runs like ‘Fringe’ meets “Paranormal Activity” meets Discovery Channel’s ‘MythBusters’ — was even declared, the “Sixth Sense of 2012". Why? It was purported that the twist ending — synonymous to M. Night Shyamalan's earlier ingenuity (anything after ‘Unbreakable’ descended into crazed absurdity)— was going to boggle filmgoers’ minds all the way to its DVD release. Mind-boggling? Yes; but a frustrating one to say the least.

The Story: Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are veteran paranormal researchers who have been debunking psychic activities and supernatural occurrences through science. But when the charismatic mentalist Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) came out of retirement after 30 years for his final international tour, Margaret is once again faced with an old adversary.

Throughout their entire career, both have been challenging each other’s beliefs; pitting truth against unexplainable miracles. The stage is now set for a showdown between science and its pseudo half. But with Margaret becoming more jaded from her longstanding fight for the truth, her willfully driven assistant, Tom sets off on his own quest to discredit Silver, only to unravel more than he bargained for. thinks: There were the elements that could have made ‘Red Lights’ a hypnotizing psychological thriller: the battle between science and mysticism, one weaponised by unexplained supernatural forces while the other, corroborated facts, and the human spirit that is inspired (and alas, expired) by the tethers of a dichotomous set of beliefs. But the film sabotages its principle motivations — to turn believers into sceptics and vice-versa— as lesser and lesser sense is made with every puzzling scene.

From the best that the preternatural world had to offer her for the last 30 years, "I have yet to witness a single miracle," Matheson asserted to a classroom filled with potential ghost busters. As one of the opening scenes, this sets the introduction to the film.

Will the no-nonsense Matheson and the cool-headed Buckley experience a “miracle”? Or will they have to be contented with one paranormal inactivity after the other? Oh wait, here comes the out-of-retirement, world-renowned blind miracle worker, Simon Silver that no one was able to discredit, including Matheson.

Silver — who can bend spoons with his mind, remove tumours with his bare hands and for dramatic reasons, levitate off the ground— is (though charismatic) dodgy to say the least. Critics have tried to expose Simon’s fraudulent methods, with one dead as a result, prompting the miracle worker to retire.

The questions as to why Matheson has been reluctantly passive in investigating her arch nemesis — where does Buckley’s unrivalled desire to unravel the truth really come from; and if Simon does truly acquire supernatural powers, offered a few suspense.

But other than the revelation of Matheson’s façade of composure and strength covering up a personal fear she has of Silver (where during the rivals confrontation years ago, it almost led her to believe that he actually possesses psychic abilities,) the rest of the questions were answered with more questions.

There was no explanation as to why Silver came out of retirement or why this international tour was to be his last. All the presumably staged hocus-pocus and unexplainable incidents experienced by Matheson were left as that. Even the official university examination conducted by Matheson’s academic rival (played by Toby Jones) to debunk Silver’s prowess produced confusing results.

And as all the half-scares of dubious distinctions piled up, it was revealed at the dramatic finale of the film a deserving anti-climax that ripped more holes in the already flimsy narrative.

Director Rodrigo Cortes (who also edited the film) threw plot distractions and sleight-of-hand antics for one hour and 53 minutes which not only have turned believers of his finer works to disgruntled sceptics but has also debunked the expectations of a film that was built on faith alone.

‘Red Lights’ is showing in theatres 26 July


Entertainment writer Zul Andra has published over a hundred interviews with local and international artists in the last five years; from Carl Cox and Lamb of God to BBC TV presenter Simon Reeve. On top of covering Singapore's entertainment, art, nightlife and drinking landscape for I-S, Time Out Singapore, Nylon, The New Paper, and Ziggy, he also maintains a column in Juice magazine. He is also a prominent blogger, on his own portal Kiss My Culture.