January 24, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Or if the title were a Jeopardy answer, the question would be: what should writer/director Rodrigo Cortes have paid attention to, before he typed “The End” on his script
Red Lights wouldn’t have been a festival movie even if it had been good. It’s no more than high-grade hokum (and not that high), and one has to assume that it’s at Sundance because Cortes made a splash here with his debut Buried, the one that kept Ryan Reynolds alone underground for its whole length and (Spoiler Alert) killed him at the end.
Lights has a fine enough premise for the genre: Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are scientists employed by the kind of institute of paranormal activity that usually shows up as the setting for TV series. They debunk fake hauntings, bogus mediums and faith-healers, and do so quite entertainingly for the first half of the movie. Their nemesis is Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro), a blind psychic whom Margaret has never been able to disprove.
So far, so fun. Halfway through, though, the movie takes its first bad turn, with a switch to loud-noise! shocks and a more serious tone as Tom’s pursuit of Silver turns personal. But that’s nothing compared to the last reel, which starts with a ridiculous action sequence and ends with the kind of cheap-trick twist that makes the whole movie up to that point nonsense.
With his director hat, Cortes handles all this smoothly enough, with lots of exploding light bulbs and menacing hallways. But after Buried and this, his next producers may seriously want to pay for a rewrite before financing his next project on the basis of his writing. The actors are fine, but in no way stretch themselves (the same goes for Elisabeth Olsen, who turns up in a thankless ingenue role as Tom’s love interest).
Red Lights holds the interest, but not in a good way–you keep watching to see how much dumber the next turn of the plot will be (and usually underestimate it). Its title is a signal to choose another movie to see.
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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."