During his introduction of his latest film, Red Lights, director Rodrigo Cortes (who last directed the enjoyable if flimsy Buried) took to the stage at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and explained that he hoped the audience would dispel any of their preconceived expectations for the film. He felt the film would be better enjoyed by the open-minded viewer, which might have been his code word for a viewer that likes bad movies. Because that’s what Red Lights is.
The film is about psychologist Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), and we find them in the opening scene travelling to a house in order to disprove a family that thinks their house is haunted. Matheson seems obsessed with the idea that there are no supernatural or superhuman abilities to be found, and she and her assistant seem to travel around specifically to make sure nobody ever thinks there are, both to smaller sites like a family home and theatres where popular psychics deceive paying customers into seeing what they hope is real.
When one such popular psychic, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), comes out of retirement, Buckley wants to investigate him, but Matheson deems it too dangerous due to the mysterious death of one of Silver’s critics. The movie continues to offer its audience questions about their own faith, and we see Buckley deal with the obsession that comes with wanting to know the answer to such questions.
The problem is that, despite a premise that seems like it should be ripe for a decent horror/thriller hybrid, this is simply not a good movie. It certainly has enough interesting ideas packed into its running time, but the ideas all become jumbled and that overabundance leads to the film feeling discombobulated as a whole. Similarly, the film makes little sense: Silver’s return to the stage from retirement seems to throw a whole metropolis into upheaval, and the prospect of being able to see Silver in the flesh seems to be the only thing the news media wants to address. Finally, the film commits some pretty atrocious crimes of exposition, crimes that are never more severe than in De Niro’s introduction. As we see Silver walk off his private airplane while wearing sunglasses, he stands just outside the door for a moment, surveying his surroundings, before taking off his sunglasses to show us that he’s blind, and then immediately puts the sunglasses back on, which is something no blind person has done, ever. It’s a small moment, but it’s one that shows how big some of the movie’s missteps are.
After the film, Cortes explained how he feels there are two genres of film: good films, and bad films, with Cortes saying he enjoys each genre. That seemed to be Cortes way of saying that this film isn’t necessarily good, but it is meant to be merely entertaining. Which it is, kind of. The whole film is about the dichotomy between skeptics and believers, which can easily reflect the audience that is watching Red Lights. If you are the type of person who wants to buy into an absurd world presented to you by filmmakers, if you are the type to not necessarily believe in this world but like it enough to let that slide, you might find Red Lights entertaining. Should you be a viewer who is more inclined to take Matheson’s side of the argument on psychics, you will probably hate how nonsensical this movie is. You are probably not the type of person who appreciates a modern Nicolas Cage film, which Red Lights more or less is. And when Cillian Murphy goes full Nic Cage in the movie, Red Lights says more about your taste in film than it ever does about the paranormal. It might be a bad movie, but that doesn’t make it inherently unenjoyable… It just doesn’t make it a movie that deserves a high rating.