Review originally published January 24, 2012 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
"Red Lights" is 97% strong paranormal thriller, 3% absolutely destroyed by the last five minutes of an ending. Director Roderigo Cortes turned in an interesting film with "Buried," but "Red Lights" is baffling. On the one hand, it's a strong film about the unrelenting struggle between belief in the inexplicable and the comfort of hard facts.
On the other hand, the ending really does ruin the rest of it.
Skeptic and professor Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) has made a life out of debunking psychics, paranormals and explaining other strange phenomena. Her able assistant Dr. Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) is constantly at her side, teaching, ghost-hunting, and experimenting. When a prominent blind psychic, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), comes back into the public eye after decades in hiding, Matheson warns Buckley against attempting to debunk Silver's work. Also in the mix is Silver's longtime assistant (Joely Richardson), as well as a pretty young co-ed (Elizabeth Olsen) and a bumbling para-psychologist (Toby Jones) who wants Matheson on his side. When Matheson is no longer able to investigate fully, it's up to Buckley to discover Silver's secret, but time and again he comes up empty-handed. Is it possible that paranormal phenomena exists? Is Silver the real deal, or simply a superb charlatan?
Weaver is hard-nosed and unrelenting as Matheson, unwilling to let anyone be taken in by the non-science of psychics and paranormal activity. Murphy has a gift, as we're all aware by now, and his acting is so effortlessly on point that it's sometimes hard to take note of it. He's that good. Olsen is wasted here, all wide-eyed innocence and false assistance.
De Niro phones it in slightly, though his role requires less than the others, he still frightens with ease. This mixture of actors play off each other with ease, and though many of the scares are cheap, there's some spine chilling moments, particularly between Murphy and De Niro.
"Red Lights" is astoundingly scary, massively enjoyable and highly unique to boot. There simply hasn't been anything like it in quite a few years, and as such it builds up a great deal of good will... which is unfortunately squandered by the abysmal slap-in-the-face of an ending. It's infuriatingly bad.
We won't reveal what happens, partially because we simply can't. As one audience member noted, "It doesn't just go off the rails, there are no rails."
All in all, "Red Lights" is a thriller with an imaginative eye. Let us hope that Cortes offers us more of the same in the future without the unnecessary failure.