Red Lights * * *
Director: Rodrigo Cortes.
Screenplay: Rodrigo Cortes.
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Robert DeNiro, Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, Joely Richardson, Craig Roberts, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Burn Gorman, Jeany Spark, Karen David.
With his English language debut “Buried” in 2010, Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes proved that he could handle tension with limited resources. This follow up has him with a slightly bigger budget and some hefty weight behind him in the acting stakes. Again he proves more than capable in his abilities to build suspense and intrigue but fails miserably in bringing his story to a satisfactory conclusion.
Doctor’s Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) work in a scientific field where they investigate paranormal activities and expose the charlatans who are out to make a quick buck. So far so good, until Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro), a renowned psychic, who disappeared 30 years ago, comes out of retirement to make another public appearance. His abilities are said to be very powerful and the doctor’s decide to take him on and expose him but the last critic who tackled him, died under mysterious circumstances.
With a confident hand Cortes sets his stall up well and builds the tension slowly and assuredly. In the beginning he focuses solely on his two solid leads in Murphy and Weaver before teasingly introducing an enigmatic DeNiro as they all scramble around a script that comes off as an episode of the “The X-Files“. The trouble is, the material has about the same staying power as a 50min episode of that series and doesn’t nearly deliver as much satisfaction as the investigations of Mulder and Scully. It’s in the final third that the film starts to crack under it’s own weight and expectations and it becomes apparent that Cortes never really knew how to tie this story together in the first place. This is the most frustrating thing about this film as it certainly has a grip on you and keeps you at just the right length to maintain your interest. Realistically, it could only end two ways; either it’s a hoax or… erm… it isn’t. Once you realise this, it dawns on you that you might not be satisfied with either. But Cortes is also aware of this and as a result tries to pull the rug from under your feet. As it is, it’s one sleight-of-hand too many as he introduces a twist that goes against everything you’ve seen before. All the events are tenuously linked together in an unravelling that is, quite frankly, preposterous and fails to convince. The three leads in Murphy, Weaver and DeNiro do what they can with the material but ultimately their talents are wasted. As are the talented likes of Joely Richardson and Toby Jones in thankless roles. It’s not a complete right-off as, for the most part, the material is there and the premise very intriguing but it falls shamefully short and instead of being poor it’s, simply just frustrating.
At one point in the film, Murphy’s character says “The only way to pull a rabbit out a hat is to put it there first“. Well, the same applies to Cortes; he certainly isn’t as clever as he thinks he is and if he wants to pull off a good twist, he has to put a decent script there first.