Here you have a respectable cast, including big shots like Robert DeNiro, Sigourney Weaver, and Cillian Murphy, and an intriguing premise about scientists trying to prove (or most likely dis-prove) the paranormal skills of mediums. But within the first few scenes of Red Lights, I was already scratching my head, wondering what sort of movie mess I would be sitting through.
Doctor Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and her trusty assistant Tom Buckley (Murphy) drive up to a haunted house in their beater 70s car, with Tom’s 70s sideburns, all filmed with a dated, Instagram-like 70’s feel. Tom hooks up his reel-to-reel tapes to record all the spooky haunted sounds coming from the house, as claimed by the distraught family. While Margaret plays along with the medium that has the terrified family in thrall, Tom shakes his puffy-headphoned head that his recorder is actually picking up nothing supernatural. The house is not haunted, Margaret proclaims, the true trickster is actually the medium, who is taking them for an expensive ride.
Now, this is all good, but then Margaret and Tom go back to their university office, where there are, you know, laptops and cell phones and such. Um. What?
Anyway, medium/healer/genuine spooky guy Simon Silver (DeNiro) has emerged from self-imposed exile after a controversy where an un-believer keeled over at one of Silver’s shows some 30 years earlier. Silver, with his dead blind eyes and theater-filling charisma gives even Margaret the heebie-jeebies. He is the one guy that she has never been able to prove is faking it, and he scares the crap out of her. Earnest sidekick Tom wants to know why. Is Silver for real? Why does Margaret keep away from him? He is ready to pool all his laptops and reel-to-reel recorders together to figure out Silver’s true (or fake) power.
Now, I would normally be all over this film, since I love paranormal and religious-type thrillers. But Red Lights is a complete mess. The style, as I said, is all over the place (did I mention that in the middle of the film Tom has a dream sequence where the film stock is as sharp and crisp as a modern music video?). Also, there are some completely inane scenes, like Margaret and Tom’s nemesis in the paranormal research department at their university (wow, so many people in the field!), doing perhaps the worst-controlled experiment I’ve ever seen in a movie (topped off with a cutesy film of the experiment that looks like, get this, it happened in the 30s or 40s!). And if Silver’s sold-out theater shows actually causes the lights to blow up and the seats to shake, why would any venue invite him in the first place? Finally when the climax comes, it should be a big revelation, but actually brings up more questions than answers. But by then you’ve given up on the film, and are just waiting for it to be done and over with.