Dir: Rodrigo Cortés, 2012
Paranormal investigator Dr. Margaret Matheson and her assistant Tom Buckley belong to an underfunded, under-appreciated university department. Desperate for both academic acknowledgement and personal closure, Buckley tries to convince Matheson to investigate Simon Silver, a world-renowned blind psychic who emerges from thirty years of retirement to perform one last set of shows.
Previously armed with a single actor and a wooden box with which to captivate audiences, Rodrigo Cortés follows up 2010’s sleeper hit Buried by radically thinking outside the box. Now assembling an all-star cast, Cortés works them to the bone in examining morality, theology, psychology and parapsychology.
Cortés’ fascinating exploration of rigged séances, phoney psychic shows and the effects of public deception quake with profundity and vigour – a truly compelling subject, though at times equating to a sombre pastiche of Ghostbusters (Sigourney Weaver’s inclusion doesn’t help). Red Lights is intriguing in its sincerity for all of fifty minutes but rapidly derails with its forceful introduction of Robert De Niro’s mysterious psychic. De Niro’s screen time is minimal so when he finally does participate, the tension and dread his character induces on that of Murphy is lacklustre and banal. Cortés dilemma is empathetic – either cut your in-depth introduction to your concept and build the antagonist’s reputation or dwell on the drawing board a bit longer (a year and a half clearly didn’t suffice).
Cortés employs an eclectic mix of experienced actors with young talent but unfortunately up-and-comer Elizabeth Olsen isn’t even given much regarding lines, let alone character. Cillian Murphy is solid in an ashamedly spoiled performance that doesn’t have an abundance of cooks to blame moreso than a flimsy twist that would have M. Night cringing. Murphy’s dynamic with the cast is finely tuned, particularly with Weaver as a scene demonstrating Weaver’s poignant performance stands out.
Once again, Cortés shows directorial flair in his Hitchcockian approach to the thriller genre but is thwarted by an unfinished script. Hence Red Lights slips in and out of entertaining, possibly joining the Inception club of fine proposals for films that simply aren’t well enough conceived – luckily for Christopher Nolan he had blockbuster action to retain his audience’s attention.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆