You don’t have to believe in the paranormal to be intrigued by the premise of Rodrigo Cortes’ “Red Lights,” now playing in limited release.
And you don’t have to be a nonbeliever to find the conclusion that this effort-laden film reaches unsatisfactory – indeed, to find it frustrating and disappointing.
Cortes, who directed the claustrophobically compelling “Buried,” seriously expands his canvas this time. He takes on both the paranormal and the debunking thereof, as practiced in academia and beyond. Needless to say, the unbelievers in this story find their certainty tested and questioned. (There’s a similar story upcoming in “The Awakening,” a British period piece starring Rebecca Hall, to be released Aug. 10.)
In this film, the debunkers are Sigourney Weaver, as Margaret Matheson, a university professor who has made a career of studying alleged paranormal phenomena and pulling the rug out from under frauds. Like Houdini, the Amazing Randi and a few others who try to protect the gullible, she and her assistant, Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), know all the tricks and get their professional satisfaction unmasking fakes and charlatans.
But now one of the most famous psychics in modern history, a blind man named Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), has come out of retirement. Well-known as a young man for his ability to read minds, bend spoons and tell the future, he made a fortune, then disappeared. Now he’s coming back to tour again – and Margaret and Tom want a piece of him.
Easier said than done. For starters, Silver is famously reclusive and hardly willing to let Margaret set time, place or, most particularly, conditions for her test. And Margaret also faces obstruction from her own university, where Paul Shackleton (Toby Jones), the chairman of her department, is far less skeptical about paranormal events in general and Silver in particular. If he can land Silver for academic testing, Paul is happy to let Silver set the terms, leaving the university ultimately open to charges of allowing itself to be manipulated and, perhaps, defrauded.
When Margaret suddenly is taken out of the picture, however, it’s up to Tom to try to track down Silver and unmask him. But he lacks Margaret’s clout; all he has are a seemingly unerring instinct for Silver’s moves – and a tenacious (and loud) willingness to get in Paul’s face about the prospects of being duped by Silver.
Does this kind of psychic ability exist?
This review continues on my website.