Review of Red Lights


Movie Review: "Red Lights"

-- Rating: R (violence and profanity)
Length: 113 minutes
Release Date: January 20, 2012
Directed by: Rodrigo Cortés
Genre: Drama / Horror / Thriller

"Red Lights" challenges viewers to take sides in the seemingly endless struggle of science versus belief, but it may leave moviegoers feeling disconnected from the main characters and plot.

The plot revolves around two paranormal investigators, Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy). The investigators have become well known over the years for debunking fraudulent claims of supernatural activity using a system that lets them track down the telltale signs of trickery. When a popular psychic named Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) returns to the light years after the mysterious death of his biggest skeptic, the investigators are embroiled in a clash between reason and belief that stirs up skepticism on both sides.

Weaver and Murphy portray their characters in a masterful way. Margaret Matheson truly seems to care for her partner and continually warns him off the Silver case to spare him from the fate she believes befell Silver's last effective critic. Murphy's performance as the obsessed Buckley has the power to bring viewers over to his side of the conflict. The inner turmoil that emerges when Buckley begins to wonder which side he is truly on is expressed beautifully through Murphy.

Robert De Niro steals the show as the seemingly nefarious Simon Silver. Viewers spend most of the movie attempting to peg down Silver as either a fraud or a true paranormal. His performance may not warm the hearts of fans, but it certainly makes a case for belief in the supernatural for most of the film. Silver comes across as a black-hearted villain almost as often as he appears legitimate, but never does De Niro cross the line from character into caricature. Whether playing the obvious heel or the less obvious potential victim of supernatural activity, De Niro creates a convincing character that moviegoers are as likely to relate to as the investigators.

The film's direction is topnotch, but its writing is one area where flaws begin to appear. Rodrigo Cortés wrote and directed the movie. Each scene seems perfectly in place. Even the red herrings that lead the investigators to dead ends are brought to life through skilled direction. The writing causes hiccups as plot holes become painfully obvious in the film's second half. The movie's climax seems almost too blunt when it takes a side in the movie's central conflict. This bluntness is unlikely to impart the intended point.

The sets and overall spookiness of the film do it credit. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States, an event well known for its art-house style. The overall style departs from more traditional Hollywood thriller fare, mimicking imported Japanese horror classics such as "The Ring" more than American releases. The first half of the film adheres closely to the art-house look and feel. The spooky settings and close camera angles keep audiences on their toes and riveted throughout the film's lengthy setup period. This falls a bit flat in the second part of the movie, however. The art-house style is abandoned for a more American-style thriller feel that is common in so many Hollywood movies. This detracts from the second half noticeably.

The movie's pacing is spot on for both halves of the film. During the artsy introduction, the scenes switch in a slow, measured manner consistent with the deliberate nature of the investigators and the world around them. When Silver steals the show mid-film, the pace quickens and begins careening towards the movie's climax. This is consistent with the two artistic styles employed by the movie, but some fans may prefer the spooky first half to the emotionally charged second. Fans may not be sure which type of movie they are watching, and those who enjoy a more artsy, independent feel are likely to experience disappointment as the film nears its finale.

The excellent acting and solid directorial choices help move the film out of the mediocre, but the problems with plot and conflicting art styles keep it from becoming a must-see for most audiences. An excellent enigma emerges in the beginning of the movie, and the conflict between the movie's two key elements helps propel it. The movie's climax, however, slams down a moral so hard and obvious that viewers are likely to find it jarring in a film that appeared to take a neutral stance and let fans decide until that point.

"Red Lights" skirts the line between art-house film and mainstream thriller and manages to capture the essences of both. The movie is an excellent choice for a date or romantic evening out.

Rating: 3 out of 5