Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro, Toby Jones
Running Time: 113 mins
Release Date: June 15th
The English film director Nicolas Roeg once remarked that he would like to have the words ‘abandon all preconceptions ye who enter here’ written in front of all cinemas. It is a sentiment presumably shared by Spanish fimmaker Rodrigo Cortés (Buried) who urged his audience to “expect nothing” when Red Lights premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Of course in an ideal world most directors would like their films to be viewed without preconceptions, but filmmaking – even low-budget filmmaking – is an expensive business and no one’s prepared to leave a movie’s success to chance. In a densely saturated market hype is king which is a shame as though it’s far from perfect, Red Lights is one of those films which rewards low expectations.
Opening with a smart set-piece this supernatural thriller introduces us to Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant Dr. Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) as they travel cross county to investigate alleged paranormal activites. The action then swiftly shifts to a university classroom where Matheson, again assisted by Buckley, reveals to her students – and the audience – the ways and means by which would-be psychics and mediums exploit their clients. “There are two kinds of people out there with a special gift”, Matheson tells us. “The ones who really think they have some kind of power and the other guys, who think we can’t figure them out.” Debunking these fraudsters has become something of a personal vendetta for Matheson and Buckley so when Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a legendary blind psychic returns to restore his tarnished reputation after a thirty year absence, a battle of wills is on the cards.
Cortés, who wrote, directed and edited Red Lights is clearly ambitious and he and his team have a fine eye for design. Impressively photographed in hellish reds and gloomy blue hues, the film has the feel of a graphic novel while the unspecified setting (it was shot in Barcelona) adds to an eerie sense of disorientation and displacement. Given the subject matter the performances are surprisingly strong although certain actors are underused. The real problem is the film’s lack of focus, with the point of view shifting so frequently we’re never fully sure whose work we are watching. Admittedly some of this confusion is intentional but the effect is distancing and ultimately undermines the ending, which is more intriguing than explosive, despite the pyrotechnics on screen.