Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy star as a team of professional scientists/sceptics who work to expose the phoneys and frauds that populate the psychic industry. When an old nemesis of Margaret (Weaver), the famous psychic Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro), comes out of retirement, past demons resurface as Tom (Murphy) defies his mentor’s advice to try and expose Silver for what he really is; a task that proves to be easier said than done.
Red Lights is a film with many strengths. Its fantastic cast does a universally good job of bringing the script to life, and it delivers for the most part an intriguing and well shot picture. For the first hour it succeeds in being engaging not because of ghosts or ghouls, but revels in the absence of the supernatural, and is better for it. However, after a crucial character is gratuitously disposed of around the half way point, everything goes downhill.
The rational scientific discourse is usurped by unnecessary cheap frights which make little sense and add nothing to the film, and an artificially tense atmosphere as fake as the fraudsters our protagonists have spent the whole film objecting to. But where Red Lights truly fails is by showing absolute contempt for its audience, as it throws away the carefully paced and intriguing setup in a bid to be unpredictable that will leave you feeling cheated. Writer/director Rodrigo Cortés is as bad as the psychics claiming to read people’s futures that are the subject matter of his film, as preposterous plot twists betray investment in the characters and undermine the film’s very premise to an unforgivable degree.
Ultimately, the only fraud that is exposed is that of the filmmakers, who managed to disguise a cheap button-pushing heap of quasi-spiritual mumbo jumbo as an almost intelligent thriller right up to a shabbily slung together and jaw-droppingly ridiculous montage in the final reel when it all comes tumbling down like a tower of tarot cards collapsing under the weight of its own stupidity. Presumably this is to avoid accusations of predictability, but not since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has an ending been more spectacularly misjudged. With the acting ability on display, this is not so much a lesson in how to spot a phoney medium, than a lesson in how to spot a complete and utter waste of talent.
If the film has a message it is about the need to look for rational explanations, but one thing that’s never explained is the knee-jerk destruction of so much time and effort. One to avoid, Red Lights makes Uri Geller look like a competent entertainer, and is barely spoon bending, let alone mind bending. The only thing debunked by Red Lights is the notion that Hollywood can make a mature, sensible film without treating its audience like idiots. Earnestly conceived but cynically developed, this M Night Shyamalan wannabe is less Sixth Sense and more nonsense.