Red Lights, the follow-up film from Buried director Rodrigo Cortés, manages the singular task of bringing together a number of terrific actors - Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Jones, and Robert De Niro - all in the service of demonstrating a key truth in movies: all the acting in the world can't help a muddling mediocre film that seemingly exists only for the "twist" ending that does nothing to shed light on what came before or invite a second viewing.
Weaver and Murphy play Matheson and Buckley, a pair of scientists/professors out to debunk false psychics and paranormal events. There's an easy chemistry between the two, and Sigourney Weaver in particular is great, playing her relationship with Murphy with just a hint of the playful, sexual tension that I suspect any woman would exhibit in the presence of...well, Murphy. The majority of what enjoyment there is in Red Lights comes from the scenes where we see them in action: in the classroom demonstrating how to levitate a table and in a brisk, Ocean's 11 sequence where they investigate and expose a psychic/faith healer in the middle of his act. Soon the White Whale of Weaver's Dr. Matheson arrives back on the scene: Simon Silver (De Niro), a Yuri Geller-type returning to the public after 30 years of self-imposed exile stemming from the mysterious death of a skeptical reporter at one of his shows. Dr. Matheseon refuses to investigate him due to their past history; Buckley is adamant they expose him for the fraud he believes Silver is.
From here Red Lights devolves into a series of tired beats as strange, unexplained phenomena plague Buckley as he becomes obsessed with debunking Silver. Electronics explode around him, birds smash into windows, and spoons inexplicably bend in coffee cups. Unfortunately, none of this serves the story except to say, "Hey! Here's some weird-ass stuff that's only here to provide some spooky atmosphere! Let's all watch De Niro act mysterious some more!" This type of thing continues to escalate until the very end, where the veracity of Silver's claims are finally revealed, and we're left with the obligatory montage of prior scenes of wackiness that are supposed to reinforce the revelation but instead reinforce the fact that the entire movie doesn't hold up as a narrative at all, but simply an excuse to get to ending Cortés (who also wrote and edited Red Lights) probably came up with before anything else.
As the kickoff film to my Year of Self Examination via My Consumed Media (YOSEvMCM) Red Lights isn't totally worthless. It reinforced the maxim that movies with twist endings have to work as more than just an excuse to get to the ending - the litmus test is do you have any desire the see the film again once you know the ending (in Red Lights case, no)? It's a shame because the premise of scientists debunking psychics is solid, and the cast is more than capable of running with this type of material. My hope going into this was the type of Hitchcock tension Cortés displayed in Buried on a larger scale. But after the third smashed bird and bent spoon I should have seen where this was going and dropped it. Which brings up the interesting question of why continue to watch when you know it's going to end badly? In this case I think it was very an excuse to verify that the film was indeed going in the direction I suspected, which really when there are so many thousands of other more worthwhile things to do out there doesn't seem like reason enough.
I'll have to work on that.