Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sceptics And Scientists, Red Lights Is Engaging!

The Good: Interesting premise, Good acting, Enough character development to be interesting
The Bad: Moments of direction, Change into a thriller
The Basics: Half scientific drama, half horror-thriller, Red Lights explores the process by which an extraordinary young man becomes determined to expose a theatrical psychic as a fraud.

It seems like every few years, film viewers go through an interest in magic and similar paranormal phenomenon, but more than that, the process of explaining magic and debunking paranormal phenomenon. Since The X-Files (and its brilliant episode “War Of The Coprophages,” reviewed here!), exploring paranormal phenomenon with a rationalist approach has become a pretty standard television or cinematic subgenre. A few years ago, the major studios tried to cash in on that and they released The Prestige (reviewed here!) and The Illusionist (reviewed here!) in proximity to one another, effectively strangling the market at the time. The studios seemed to learn their lesson and well in advance of this year’s Now You See Me, the film Red Lights was released in a limited fashion last year.

I saw the trailer for Red Lights before some movie I saw recently on DVD and I put it on my list of movies I wanted to see. Then, I forgot about it until I got to it on the list; I was not so swayed by the preview that I felt I needed to run right out and see it and I did not do any additional research on the movie. In fact, outside knowing Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, and Cillian Murphy were in the film and that it had something to do with refutation of magic, I had really no idea what I was getting into with Red Lights.

Red Lights is actually one of the better films I have seen of late and certainly one of the most engaging from the outset. As a genre fan and very rational person, I actually enjoy films that explore the scientific process and Red Lights works hard to mix a story of scientific methodology with interesting characters. I am not, traditionally, a fan of horror movies and Red Lights, after its first hour, transitions from a rational crime drama into a “we’re going to make you jump” style horror thriller. Accepting that conceit (and the deliberate emotional manipulation that it employs), Red Lights makes a largely successful transition from methodological drama into thriller. In fact, one of the few weaknesses of Red Lights is that writer and director Rodrigo Cortes seems to think the film needs the jumpy moments in order to retain the interest of the viewer. Given how the film opens, that is a fallacy; Red Lights is an engaging-enough story on his own.

Opening with a “séance” that is investigated by Dr. Margaret Matheson, a psychologist, and physicist Tom Buckley, Matheson comes to realize that the house is not so much possessed as the adults there are being manipulated by an upset young woman and a hairdresser who is putting him on. Matheson, who is the mother of a son who remains in a coma, expresses a resistance to Buckley’s suggestion that they investigate renowned blind psychic Simon Silver. Silver, who left the public life decades prior after his biggest detractor died at one of his shows, uses his assistant to intellectually ambush Matheson on television, a move that pushed Buckley to demand that she and the Scientific Paranormal Research Center investigate Silver to definitively denounce him and his so-called abilities. After putting away a former disciple of Silver’s, Buckley chases down Silver and is away from the lab when Matheson collapses.

Following the untimely death of his mentor, Buckley becomes obsessed with proving Silver is a fraud. After protecting his girlfriend by pushing her away, he muscles his way onto Paul Shackleton’s (a senior fellow at the SPRC) team of investigators as they try to document all of Silver’s alleged powers using scientific, methodology. As Silver plans his final show, Buckley moves to disprove his abilities once and for all.

Despite the middle section of the film making a determined stab at making the thriller into something more of “jump in your seats” horror movie, Red Lights is a smart, well-conceived character study of a young man struggling with his own sense of loss and the man he blames for the death of his mother. Red Lights tries to hinge on one important conceit, which actor Robert De Niro sells incredibly well, but is so much more than just a simple reversal at the end story.

Instead, Red Lights smartly becomes something more impressive and works fine with or without the end. Genre fans are likely to be thrilled by the resolution, which calls to mind something like a supernatural variation on The Usual Suspects (reviewed here!), but well before that end takes an abrupt left turn, viewers are likely to be much more engaged by the impressive grasp Cortes has on human psychology. Matheson and Buckley are searching for truth based almost entirely on their sense of loss and regardless of how the final monologue might try to change that, the characters are deep enough that their motivations transcend the stylistic reversal.

Red Lights is another decent feather in the cap of Cillian Murphy, who manages to play Buckley without any hint of his prior characters in his performance. Sigourney Weaver is distinguished as Matheson and she makes her role as memorable as possible, especially given that the character does leave surprisingly early in the film. Robert De Niro is his usual wonderful self. He is convincing as Silver, but as I’ve long said, De Niro’s performance abilities in drama are really never going to be challenged or expanded upon. He has had such an impressive and varied career that there is nothing he has really not already done. So, while he is convincing as the blind psychic in Red Lights, it is easy for the determined viewer to draw parallels between his performance in this and Hide And Seek (reviewed here!).

Ultimately, Red Lights is a clever, oft-neglected film of 2012 that remains one of the non-major movies of the year well worth hunting down for its approach, characters, and ultimately engaging plot development.

For other works with Toby Jones, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Snow White And The Huntsman
The Hunger Games
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
My Week With Marilyn
Captain America: The First Avenger
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part I
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Ever After


Check out how this movie stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page where the films are organized from best to worst!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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