[This review was originally posted as part of our Sundance Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with its wider theatrical release.]
Red Lights presents a problem I never faced before, as a reviewer: How do I write a review for something I loved up to its last three minutes, but am so upset by the ending that those feelings are now long buried? Do I disregard the rotten ending and look at it as 90 or so minutes worthwhile? Do I factor in that the ending soured my memories of the film? How do I go about this?
We don’t talk in spoilers here, so I’ll talk about the part I did enjoy which is most of it. It’s just … man … that ending … what the hell?
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Release Date: TBA
Physicists Tom (Cillian Murphy) and Margaret (Sigourney Weaver) are like a team of modern ghostbusters. Instead of busting ghosts they are exposing frauds who try to convince others that the supernatural exists. Through excessive knowledge of sleight-of-hand trickery and an arsenal of basic electronic toys, the two take on random assignments. Sometimes for a paycheck, but mostly just to defraud a con artist who is profiting off the public’s ignorance.
Red Lights can be cut into two films: The first half is a fun adventure film about busting con artists, while the second half becomes a fairly intense thriller. Things change once Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) enters the picture. Silver is a world famous magician and psychic who has been in retirement for 30 years. For unknown reasons, he steps onto the stage once again which gets Tom’s attention.
Margaret is old and tired, relying on Tom to help organize their college course on debunking and outings. Despite her age, she doesn’t put up with anybody’s shit. She keeps Tom’s role as her underling well defined and isn’t shy about debunking the school’s supernatural science team’s research (do those exist?) While she is happy exposing the same old tricks, Tom is hungry to take down Silver who appears to be untouchable — he also may have killed a journalist with his mind in the ’80s.
Red Lights is a very smart film that owes much to Hitchcock. Writer/director Rodrigo Cortés (Buried) lacks the visual flair of M. Night Shyamalan and Christopher Nolan, but has great control over his audience in eliciting fear and laughter through subtle means. He’s an artist not afraid to attempt ambitious ideas, but he occasionally fails in their execution. Nowhere is this more true than Red Lights disastrous ending. I can see how the idea behind it ties into the film, but it is such a drastic shift tonally and laughable in its overwrought nature — a true shock since everything that came before it felt so controlled and cohesive.
At its core, Red Lights is a film about discovering identity through understanding of our reality. It’s also about the models we use to define our reality can only ever be man-made and not absolute truth. It’s in these themes that the film gives the viewer something to chew on, while setting a unique, haunting mood that often recalls the X-Files (which the opening credits pay homage to).
The ending wouldn’t hurt so much if the rest of the film wasn’t so fantastic. Red Lights is a well-made, entertaining thriller until its end. This is one of those films that brings you into an original world, where the atmosphere and mystery consumes you. By the end, you’ll be so starved for the conclusion that it hurts. It takes a lot to get me to commit such interest into a thriller, but Red Lights unfortuntely misuses it.
So, yeah, I’m pretty hung up on this film’s ending. Thinking of the film before that moment is hazy, but it’s hard to forget Murphy’s powerful performance, Cortés’ ability to drum up tension, and the script’s subtle bits of humor and wit. I loved this film and then I didn’t, but I remember the good times. Maybe, you’ll love it too — but, be warned, you’re gonna get hurt. Red Lights is a real heartbreaker. Thinking of what could have been will leave you bittersweet.
Just think of it as a hooker. You like hookers right? I mean, who doesn’t!?!