Set more or less in the present day real world, Red Lights brings us to an age where psychics and televangelists have taken over the mantle of magicians, where despite the advances of science, faith and credulity are in ample supply. Common folk continue to be seduced by charismatic, forceful personalities who promise the twin blessings of health and wealth, and perversely scornful of naysayers and sceptics.
Ergo on one end, our protagonists: a team consisting of an underfunded psychologist and her overqualified physicist assistant who debunk psychics and magicians for a living; on the other, our antagonist and puzzle to be solved: Robert De Niro either chewing up scenery or threatening to chew up scenery as a psychic coming out of voluntary retirement not for the money but to prove once and for all the existence of extra-sensory powers — one of which apparently is the power to strike fear and kill from a distance.
Genre-savvy writing from Rodrigo Cortes makes Red Lights far easier to watch than The Prestige. Cortes assumes in good faith that we'll figure out the rules of the game without too much hand-holding exposition and plunges us not a moment too soon into a series of escalations between Team Penniless Sceptics and Team Vaguely Threatening Magicians. As a director, Cortes plays off the natural inclination of his three stars to one-up in the scene-chewing sweepstakes. The result is a series of brilliant set-pieces and confrontations that are dynamic, explosive, and larger than life in a film that's thoughtful but never too clever for its good and never too neatly written to preclude an unexpected surprise or two.