Dir. Rodrigo Cortés, US, 2012, 113 mins
Review by Dan Collacott
Touted as this year’s Sixth Sense, director/writer Rodrigo Cortés (Buried) has assembled a first class cast for his scientific paranormal thriller, Red Lights.
Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her physicist colleague Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are professional debunkers of the paranormal (rather like the antithesis of Mulder and Scully). In the opening act they expertly deconstruct a haunted house and hoax séance, with minimum fuss and maximum precision.
The duo work at a university where their work receives little respect and even less budget. Even exposing a famous psychic medium as a fraud, provides little respite for their withering cause. This, despite the fact Professor Toby Jones (Paul Shakelton) ironically and rather implausibly receives more funding than them for actually trying to prove humans are capable of psychic ability!
Charismatic celebrity medium Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) re-emerges after years of retirement to reignite his old feud with Matheson. Mathson had been investigating Silver’s legitimacy when he struck the cruelist of retalitary blow. On a live TV debate Silver claimed Mathson’s long comatose son wanted to be allowed to die, forcing her to momentarily question her own beliefs. Silver later chose to retire after his most vociferous press critic died mysteriously of a rare heart attack during one of his live shows.
Matheson is afraid to go after the resurgent Silver, but her young yet aggressive assistant is not so deterred. Buckley’s attempts to derail Silver’s money spinning comeback are hampered by strange events, electrical surges, suicidal birds and sabotage. Silver himself engineers more publicity by agreeing to have his powers investigated by Jones at the university, promising to reveal the results during his final ever show!
Cortés expertly plays with our willingness to believe, teasing out every bit of tension and intrigue throughout. De Niro is immense with his creepy yet masterful turn as Silver and Cillian Murphy is superb as his determined and brilliant opponent. The ensemble cast is impressive, including cameos from Elizabeth Olsen as Buckley’s student love interest and Joely Richardson as Silver’s devious assistant. The scripting and performances are accomplished and the cinematography and pacing give the film an epic feel. Where the film falls however short is the weighting and editing of the story. The intensity and brilliance of the first half of the film consigns the final act to inevitable disappointment. The importance placed on the final reveal leaves the narrative hamstrung; rather than providing a sharp intake of breath followed by credits, the end is a rather clumsily handled and drawn out affair.