Red Lights (2012) - Rodrigo Cortés


From the director of Buried, the one with Ryan Reynolds stuck in a box (non-metaphorical one), which I quite liked. Here we have the story of two university scientists, Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), who investigate 'paranormal' incidents. During their work, a previously retired world-renowned psychic called Simon Silver announces a comeback tour. Having previously been investigated by Margaret and her not being able to debunk him, now Tom becomes obsessed with investigating Silver and finds himself in over his head....

It's a strange film tonally; there's mixture of traditional shooting, interspersed with 'video footage' and the colour palette is all over the place. It opens quite strongly with the two investigating a haunted house and a 'pyschic' who performs a séance, Weaver's exasperated face complete with barely restrained contempt was enjoyable as she uncovers the very ordinary explanation for what's really happening. We also see one of her classes where she mater-of-factly talks about the tricks of the trade and this part of the film is the most interesting. In fact I would have quite enjoyed watching a film where these two go around debunking various paranormal events. Weaver is nice as the older, wiser sceptic and Murphy is the likeable slightly-dorky-but-admirable assistant.

However the film decides to go in a different and unfortunately more predictable angle with the introduction of Silver, played at his scenery chewing worst by Robert De Niro. I know De Niro used to be a great actor; He was great in Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets and numerous other films. This De Niro is unrecognisable from that actor; I genuinely would have preferred almost any other actor for Silver. At least I would have felt they were trying. The rest of the cast is quite strong with Tobey Jones, Joely Richardson, Elizabeth Olsen. Unfortunately they don't really get a lot to do in the film. Tobey is a hapless fellow scientist, Olsen is the girlfriend and Richardson is barely there as Silver's manager. Once the film shifts into a more supernatural thriller it bundles along at a rate but it loses any real tension or coherence. Despite the pretence of ambiguity and some misdirection, it's pretty clear where the film is going to go. Like a simple magic trick if you pay a bit of attention it's pretty simple. And unfortunately Cortes doesn't have a rabbit to pull out of his hat here as we head to the surprisingly lacklustre denouement.

It's watchable enough but you're left with the impression that much like Buried, Cortes had a good idea but wasn't able to stretch it out or layer it with enough sub-plots or sub-text for a full length feature film.