Red Lights

by Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison

EXPECTATIONS: The marketing for this film is all about the ambiguity. Is Robert De Niro a psychic? Is he a fraud? Unfortunately, I can't help but wonder if I'm going to care either way when it's all over. Probably not.

REALITY: Red Lights would have been an incredibly generic film had it been released twelve years ago in the wake of The Sixth Sense; today, it manages to feel both generic and outdated. Considering this is from the director of the wonderful dark comedy Buried, we should be expecting bigger things here than just a by-the-numbers supernatural thriller with the big third-act twist that has become so expected that it washes over us with banal nonchalance.

Yes, Robert. For the last time, we do doubt your power. That's what the entire plot revolves around.

Professional investigators into paranormal phenomena Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Dr. Thomas Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are determined to disprove the existence of psychic powers. When insanely famous psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) returns to the stage after a long hiatus, the duo are dragged into a dangerous investigation to find the truth behind his abilties (or lack thereof). With pseudo-scientist Paul Shackleton (Toby Jones) working to prove the opposite, somebody is going to have to eat their words.

Sounds dull, but I promise you it is billed as a thriller. I'm not sure how or why though. You have this antagonistic presence in the form of Simon Silver, but what exactly is he being antagonistic against? Science? A late twist renders him even more useless and leaves you wondering just what you're even watching this film for in the first place. These kinds of twists aren't supposed to make everything that came before completely irrelevant, they're supposed to cast it in a different light to make you wonder at your perceptions. This one just says "Surprise! Everything you thought was one way is the other, don't you feel silly?" Well no, because I already didn't care that much.

The biggest problem is the script. I find it very hard to believe that these actors actually said some of this dialogue out loud on film. One of Sigourney Weaver's monologues just has to be heard to be believed: She starts by explaining that her son is in a coma and then goes on to tell a joke about a woman who got raped by a ghost and then goes off on some other tangent. "You know why people believe in ghosts?" she inquires. "The same reason they believe in haunted houses..." That's no kind of answer! What the hell is that supposed to mean? People believe in dogs for the same reason they believe in kennels?

That's not to say that this is necessarily a bad film, but it certainly falls far short of being particularly good. The cast members do very well with the material that is given to them, and there are a small handful of interesting scenes. The best of these is one in which Silver undergoes a series of inconclusive tests with Shackleton to prove or disprove his psychic powers. It is when the film flirts with ambiguity like this that it is at its best.

Considering that we now have films like Prometheus and TV shows like Lost where nothing needs to be explained, Red Lights is extremely out of fashion. Some critics calling it "the new Sixth Sense" really highlights my point. Nobody wants the new Sixth Sense to be this much like the old one. We've had Saw since then, we've had Inception, fashions change, audiences change, films should change with them. Unless I'm completely misjudging this and The Sixth Sense is actually old enough to be considered retro and therefor cool again?

Cast9/10
Script3/10
Twist0/10
Being Fashionable0/10
Birds Committing Suicide10/10
Overall22/50

MINORITY REPORT: Eventually, Hollywood is going to get sick of waiting around for Dan Aykroyd and Ivan Reitman to get their act together, and when that day comes, Ghostbusters III is going to happen. It's going to be about Dana Barrett, and it's going to look just like this. Wait and see. - Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade

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