2016.58: Red Lights (Amazon VOD)
Here’s a question. I’d like to think that actors are basically honest. That actors sign-on to films hoping for the best, full of confidence in the script and the director…but do they really just sign-on for the paycheck, getting involved in a problematic film just for the money? Sod the poor saps that pay to watch the film, just take the paycheck, do the gig and run?
Red Lights is a film about lies and deception. The irony being, is the ultimate lie and deception, a sort of meta-deception if you will, the one being these actors performing in such a bad film?
Because considering the talent in front of the camera, its rather alarming that this film turns out to be such a hackneyed, poor-mans bad X-Files episode. Paranormal investigators Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) and Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) study house-hauntings and other supposed paranormal events, debunking said hauntings and fraudulent psychics.with cynical aplomb. Unlike the X-File‘s Mulder, neither seem to be believers, neither seems to believe they might actually discover something for real. Matheson perhaps wants to believe, wants to be convinced- she is a cynic with a tragic background (her son has been on life support for years but she can’t let him go -switch off said life support- without proof it would mean him going to a better place). Even Matheson is at a loss to explain what Buckley is doing wasting his time as her assistant. You can smell some kind of twist coming a mile off.
Cue the return of infamous blind psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) once a famous celebrity back in the seventies who has re-emerged from retirement for some incredibly lucrative shows in Buckley and Matheson’s neck of the woods (handy that). Matheson apparently failed to debunk Silver back in the day and sees Silver’s return as some kind of personal affront. Also new on the scene is Sally (Elizabeth Olsen) as a student of the two investigators (they run some kind of college course on debunking fake psychics and Sally joins in on their efforts for extra credits or something). Sally seems to act as Buckley’s love interest and the audience’s POV (she’s handily often asking the questions the audience might have) but there’s surely some other purpose to her… except maybe not.
You see, that’s the problem with this film – for a little while its almost fun, you sense all sorts of twists and elaborate stuff going on but there really isn’t. Its like you are making up this better movie in your head as you watch it, expecting it to reveal its secrets like a M. Night Shyamalan film would, but it doesn’t. Matheson dies mid-film but somehow it isn’t convincing- it feels like a hoax to put Silver at ease for a spectacular reveal towards the end but, nope, she’s really dead. Likewise as Silver seems able to second-guess what our investigators are doing and his return seems to coincide with Sally’s arrival on the scene, I was always expecting her to be unmasked as a traitor who was working on Silver’s behalf throughout. But she isn’t and she wasn’t. She’s just a love-interest. And as for Silver being maybe the Real Deal, well, De Niro doesn’t seem interested in giving the character any nuances or anything, he’s clearly a bad ‘un and De Niro treats the role like some kind of audition for a Bond villain gig.
When the eventual twist does come it feels awfully empty and leftfield. Inferior to the ones being cooked up in audience heads as they are watching the film anyway.
What I cannot figure out though- the script was clearly problematic. It desperately needed a few more drafts to iron out its problems and actually add some genuine twists/motivations/arcs. What on earth did De Niro see in the part of Silver other than a paycheck? Sigourney Weaver may not get too many decent roles these days but surely she doesn’t need the money so badly to get caught in thankless roles like that of Matheson here? I don’t know. I really don’t know. Films like this, films so absurd and broken and frankly pointless and empty, simply don’t deserve this kind of talent, such decent actors in such bad roles. What’s going on? Is it really just about the money, even for veterans like De Niro and Weaver?