Red Lights

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Red Lights Movie Poster Image
Horror/thriller about psychics has violence, language.
  • R
  • 2012
  • 113 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Red Lights' main theme is the idea of faith: whether or not to believe in something despite the absence of proof. It doesn't necessarily comment upon this positively or negatively, but it does suggest that people who do offer proof are frauds and are only negating the very concept of "faith." On a subtler level, the movie is about belonging.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters work to solve problems, but each person's motivation seems to be selfish and/or based on revenge -- not to mention that the problems they're working on may be unsolvable.


Some violent and/or disturbing paranormal events, such as angry "ghosts" shaking the furniture, birds suddenly smashing into windows, or lights exploding. There are also some scary sequences, such as nightmares. Main characters die. There's a bloody fistfight in a bathroom. Some blood and gore is shown. Graphic photos are seen. Characters often argue or engage in tense discussions. A character performs a gruesome magic trick that makes it look as if he has pierced his bottom lip with a pen.


Two central characters seem to be on the verge of some sexual tension, but it doesn't go anywhere.


Language isn't constant but includes words such as "f--k," "s--t," "crap," and "ass," plus "oh God" and "Jesus Christ" (as exclamations).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character is seen popping some kind of prescription pills.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Red Lights is a thriller about paranormal researchers investigating a famous psychic who may or may not be legit. It has some horror elements and some scary stuff, as well as fighting, arguing, a little blood and gore, and characters dying. And there's a general uneasy, tense feeling throughout the movie. Language is the other major issue, with strong words like "f--k" and "s--t" (though they're used relatively infrequently). An older character is seen popping unidentified prescription pills.

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What's the story?

Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her young partner, Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), are top paranormal investigators. After debunking a haunting and a fake seance, Tom discovers that a famous psychic, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), is coming out of retirement and going back on tour. Tom insists that they look into him and his act, but Margaret resists due to a painful previous encounter with Silver. Tom continues his investigation, bringing in a gifted student, Sally (Elizabeth Olsen), for help. As Tom becomes more entrenched in a dangerous and mysterious world, he likewise becomes more obsessed. The only answer to the puzzle lies in what's real and what's just illusion.

Is it any good?

RED LIGHTS' very subtle writing, editing, and music create a mood of uneasiness and mistrust; certain scenes don't even seem to be "really" happening. It's magnificently off-kilter and constantly gripping. Director Rodrigo Cortes last brought us Buried, a gruelingly intense thriller that used only one on-screen actor and one location; he continues that sense of paranoia, claustrophobia, and tension in this more ambitious movie.

The movie's main drawback is that, to reach its conclusion, it eventually answers its own unanswerable questions. But it can be argued that this is necessary for Tom's character, even if it hurts the story; it's an inevitable conclusion in his personal journey. Plus, Cortes draws excellent performances from Weaver (her best in ages), Murphy, and even DeNiro, who's more mesmerizing and menacing than he has been in years.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Red Lights' violence. Even though there are no shootouts and few actual scenes of explosive violence, how do the filmmakers create a general mood of tension?

  • Is the movie scary? Is it any less scary when the "ghosts" aren't real?

  • Do you believe in psychic phenomena? Did the movie change your mind in any way? Does it matter whether Red Lights definitively answers the question about psychics being legitimate?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love scares

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