Lita On Film

Red Lights

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2012 at 8:13 pm


Rodrigo Cortés’s new thriller RED LIGHTS treads the familiar territory most recently explored by films like INSIDIOUS and THE INNKEEPERS: the is-it-or-isn’t-it-real world of the supernatural and those who claim to be able to communicate with its inhabitants. What sets this film apart is its ridiculously star-studded cast, which includes Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen, Sigourney Weaver and none other than Robert De Niro as the mysterious psychic whose emergence from retirement kicks off the story. What RED LIGHTS gets right is its tense, slightly claustrophobic atmosphere—the tension builds nicely, even if it has nowhere to go but out the window in the end. With so much going for it, including some well-deployed cinematographic inventiveness, it’s a shame that Cortés is unable to keep his story from imploding right at its climax.


Murphy plays a physicist inexplicably spending his career helping Weaver, a psychologist specializing in debunking paranormal phenomena, document her various conquests. From vengeful children to money-grubbing charlatans, Weaver’s character has always been able to root out conniving wherever she looks—with the exception of De Niro’s character, of course. Decades ago, when the two titans first faced off, De Niro’s character made an observation that could only have been the result of total heartlessness or actual ESP; Weaver’s character believes the former, and has never forgiven him for it. (“He made me DOUBT!” she yells tearfully at one point.)


Cortes seems to want to explore not only the possibility of supernatural phenomena but the nature of faith itself. Weaver’s character is repeatedly confronted with people whose belief in ESP and the like is only strengthened when she points out how illogical it is. While at first the film is decidedly on Weaver’s side on this issue, by its (very muddled) end, it has steamed past ambivalence and ended up all the way on the other end of the spectrum, confirming the very concepts it began by ridiculing. While Cortes does a good job of highlighting the eerie undeniability of the weird things that keep happening to Murphy and Weaver, this buildup feels crazed rather than poignant. When the big reveal finally happens, it’s less a revelation than a “red light” of its own: something uncanny and strange that sticks out because it clearly doesn’t belong.


Instead of evoking the shock and sudden rush of realization brought on by films like THE SIXTH SENSE, Cortés’s twist ending—which was visible from miles away—is so clumsily realized that I, for one, still don’t know if I actually understand what happened. Sadly, despite everything it has going for it, RED LIGHTS just can’t get out of its own way.


© Lita Robinson 2012

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