Ludicrous events pile on top of each other, leading to a climax that makes one wish for the fun low-key first half of the film to return.
The opening of Red Lights immediately sets it apart from the usual crop of horror films and thrillers that get dumped out into multiplexes almost every week. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) drive out to a haunted house in Vermont. Matheson is a psychologist specializing in the paranormal who, with Tom, go around the country debunking people’s claims of “supernatural events.” After an eerie séance at the house in Vermont, Matheson quickly figures out the real cause of the haunting and then heads back to her teaching job in Ohio.
It’s these kinds of sequences that make the first hour of Red Lights a compelling and original take on supernatural thrillers. Matheson, Buckley and one of their students (Elizabeth Olsen) go around disproving the existence of spirits and expose psychics as frauds. Not too long after one of their biggest busts, news gets out that Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) is coming out of retirement. Silver, a blind medium who has never been debunked, is so good at what he does that Matheson won’t go near him. “He’s dangerous,” she tells Buckley, who’s enraged at her for not wanting to pursue Silver. Tom tries to work on exposing Silver behind Matheson’s back, and then all hell breaks loose.
It’s at this point that Red Lights veers off course straight into a ditch (more sensitive readers be warned: minor spoilers follow). Weaver, who shows how woefully underused she’s been over the years, is suddenly taken out of the picture. Suddenly Murphy becomes the focus as he encounters more and more strange phenomena while looking for evidence of Silver deceiving the public. Rodrigo Cortés is able to keep things compelling as he introduces more mysterious elements into the story, but once he shows his hand everything falls apart. Ludicrous events pile on top of each other, leading to a climax that makes one wish for the fun low-key first half of the film to return.
That feeling doesn’t end up returning though as Cortés decides to double down on the stupidity. Almost every review or comment about Red Lights eventually brings up its ending. Cortés tries to go for a big “A-ha!” moment and falls flat on his face. The final twist goes for a more profound conclusion, but its execution is jarring with the sensational events that came before it. It’s undeniable that Red Lights has plenty going for it with its strong cast and excellent first half, but Cortés comes dangerously close to tanking the whole thing by the end. Red Lights remains interesting throughout, but by the end it’s appealing in the same way a train wreck is.