Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Red Lights: Ghostbusters without Dr. Venkman

Rober De Niro as "Simon Silver," Joely Richardson as "Monica Hansen" and Toby Jones as "Paul Shackleton" in RED LIGHTS.

Photo Courtesy of Alliance Films

2 out of 4 stars

Red Lights
Written by
Rodrigo Cortés
Directed by
Rodrigo Cortés
Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver

The world's most famous psychic medium doesn't talk to people. Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) spews, shouts or mysteriously whispers confusing platitudes like "We all try to be something with nothing" at them, with no particular respect for context.

One of Red Lights' highlights is Eugenio Mira's mugging De Niro impression as the psychic's younger self in an explanatory newsreel. After dramatically retiring 30 years ago because a fan socked him, Silver is returning to deploy his Torpedo of Truth to the masses, one opera-scaled event at a time. At the top of his shows, Silver waxes poetic about the mysteries of sky, moon and wind, and compares himself to misunderstood genius-heretics like Giordano Bruno and Galileo.

A few determined skeptics are out to debunk the ESP myth and Silver's scam. Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her protégé Dr. Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are professors who drive around tricking folks into thinking they're haunted by their beloved dead relatives, staging low-tech seance "sessions." They're bedraggled and cynical Ghostbusters in vintage tweed. They've done so much research on paranormal activity, and how's it's fabricated, that we can't keep up with it, nor with the characters' arguments over belief in superhuman ability or an afterlife. Like the Indiana Jones films, this tries to make academia an adventure, but tons of scientific mumbo jumbo, and casual references to Occam's razor and its ilk, often falls short of connecting.

Story continues below advertisement

The team recruits a keen student named Sally Owen that Dr. Buckley has the hots for, and whom Dr. Matheson momentarily objects to, played by Elizabeth Olsen. She's simply one half of a scantly seen romance that pops up when we need reassurance or closure, and one third of a procedural investigation without much bite.

Red Lights isn't as claustrophobic as writer/director/editor/producer Rodrigo Cortes's last film, Buried, which forced us to be in a coffin with Ryan Reynolds for a couple hours. It works best when it doesn't take itself seriously, and some of the ways in which ESP is faked are briefly engaging, like short con games or magic tricks revealed. But, finally, the film doesn't offer the sense of release, or of surprise, that it seems to take for granted. Plus, a letter to a dead person read in voice-over is expected to explain everything. Red Lights capably but goofily functions as light entertainment before a last-minute attempt to be a parable about the marginalized outsider: those poor psychics. If you've got the power, prove it.

Report an error

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Please note that our commenting partner Civil Comments is closing down. As such we will be implementing a new commenting partner in the coming weeks. As of December 20th, 2017 we will be shutting down commenting on all article pages across our site while we do the maintenance and updates. We understand that commenting is important to our audience and hope to have a technical solution in place January 2018.

Discussion loading… ✨