Red Lights (2012) Retro Review – Murphy Shines, De Niro Disappoints

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Red Lights was written and directed by Rodrigo Cortes who was previously best known for the Ryan Reynolds film Buried (2010).  It boasts an excellent cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Olsen and Toby Jones.  The basic plot of the film is that Dr Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and Dr Tom Buckley (Murphy) work at a university and specialise in debunking paranormal phenomenon.  The title of the film comes from the warning signs that Matheson looks out for that give away the fact that a paranormal / psychic event isn’t real.

The tension builds as a psychic, Simon Silver (De Niro), comes out of retirement after many years following a controversial incident in which his most fierce critic died of a heart attack.  Buckley becomes obsessed with investigating Silver while Matheson seems happy to let it go.  We are in M. Night Shyamalan territory with this film – a somewhat unearthly mystery to be investigated with a ‘shock’ twist at the end.  I’ve just noticed the reference to Sixth Sense (1999) on the poster and I understand why.

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There are two performances I want to talk about.  The first is Murphy as Tom Buckley who proves his charismatic leading man status with an assured performance that scopes the full range of emotion.  He begins life as a slightly awkward college professor who increasingly unleashes an inner anger stemming from an internal battle that is only revealed at the end of the film.  The second performance is the dull, got his name on the poster, effort from Mr De Niro.  How far his star has fallen in the last decade.  I got absolutely no feedback from his character or what he stood for.  It makes the head-to-head a no-contest and reduces the tension significantly.

The film has a washed out realistic tone with a grey and occasionally sickly green palette.  I was attracted by the initial setup and I expected a narrative that would try and keep the viewer guessing to the end and probably end on an ambiguous note.  Instead what we have is a standard twist that occurs in the final ten minutes of the movie and left me thinking ‘oh come on!’  It does explain the anger of the Buckley character but I thought it delivered a slightly sickly sweet ending that didn’t fit the overall tone of the film.

Overall I’m just positive about the film but would equally understand why someone would dismiss it.  I would say that if you’ve got a couple of hours to spare on a wet weekend and it shows up on TV give it a watch but it’s not worth spending money on.

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