Headline-grabbing cast of Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy and rising ‘horror/thriller star’ Elizabeth Olsen, Buried director Rodrigo Cortés’s new film, Red Lights, promises another intriguing delve into the supernatural unexplained. It pitches the sceptics and the believers against each other as it twists and turns and convolutes its story of exploration.
Psychologists Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Murphy) study paranormal activity and try to blow the lid on the psychics’ methods once and for all. After successfully questioning the acts of some, they are faced with the world-renowned psychic Simon Silver (De Niro) who not only has a large following and respect, but has amassed a fortune, and who has resurfaced years after his toughest critic mysteriously passed away.
What starts out a fascinating and ambiguous premise of supernatural study on film, expertly acted by the stellar cast, falls victim to its own paranoid disbelief at the end, as Cortés feels the need to reiterate pointers in glaring flashbacks in his finale, rather than leave a cerebral air of mystery. Indeed, he does well to challenge all our perceptions within his narrative but is also guilty of tripping himself up in his quest to unravel the world of the psychic – or ‘red lights’ (facts that prove a psychic is a fraud).
What Cortés does deliver is a powerful sense of doubt along the way on both sides of the argument – as well as some confusion as the theories become overly complex, while leaving other answers unexplored and hanging in the ether. One example in particular, is when Buckley visits Silver’s sinister quarters, and the blind psychic gives a chilling monologue. Rather than filling you with further intrigue, it merely feels wordy and wasted in its power from the ever-dynamic De Niro.
Thankfully for the writer-director, like the coin trick that Murphy as Buckley does on Olsen’s student character, Sally Owen, we are always momentarily blind-sided by the engaging performances, stopping us giving up all together on the film’s ideas. It’s a shame as Red Lights has so much more potential to give than it delivers, and you wonder whether a more experienced screenwriter who have moulded it all far better, letting Cortés concentrate on its direction.
Cortés is a highly talented and exciting filmmaker, using all the tricks of his trade to conjure up tension, mystery and intrigue. However, the doubt is in his writing skills in pulling off compounded plotlines, and if it wasn’t for the acting talent that his latest film has attracted, Red Lights would have fallen at the first hurdle – however curious we may be at its subject matter.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie