22 June 2012

Review: Red Lights

(Dir: Rodrigo Cortés, 2012)

Red Lights is one of those films that strangely appears to have snuck under the radar a bit. Directed by Rodrigo Cortés, the man responsible for the fantastically breathless Buried, which was one of the most thrilling and claustrophobic experiences I had in the cinema in 2010 (although how it translates to the safer and controllable home viewing experience I'm reluctant to find out in case it desacralizes my perception of it based on experiencing it in the cinema), this gives him a bigger budget, more famous faces and more locations to play with.

The story focuses on Matheson (Sigourney Weaver), a psychology lecturer specialising in the paranormal, who along with her physicist assistant and protégé (Cillian Murphy), also investigate supposed parapsychological events. They are experts and know all the tricks of the trade. But when the mysterious Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), one of the most famous psychics in the world who has been quietly absent for thirty years, suddenly appears back on the scene to stage some final shows and prove once and for all that he is the real deal and that psychic abilities do exist, the desire to investigate him takes hold, leading to conflict and some expectedly weird shit happening.

I like the way that Red Lights approached its subject matter. The area of parapsychology is an interesting one and the film takes a more objective approach, mirroring the beliefs of its protagonists. They’re happy to routinely debunk the events that people are fooled into believing are real, but it seems they almost want to find something genuine in order to validate what they’re doing, after so many years of seeing only cons and fakes. Then there’s one characters logic as to why it’s impossible for them to turn off a relatives life support – there’s a sad truth to it, which is a key motivator for their actions. I left the cinema mulling things over and that’s always a good sign.

The casting in Red Lights is spot on. Murphy is an always reliable actor and continuing that theme here he is likeable and engaging as one of the leads, with a slight air of mystery around him and his dogged determination. This is the most I’ve enjoyed watching Weaver on screen in ages – lately she’s cropped up in small roles playing too similar a character (The Cold Light Of Day, Abduction, Rampart), but here she has a lot more to do and is perfectly suited to this character. I also appreciated the irony of her playing a character similar in some ways to Dr Peter Venkman! De Niro is also on good form, very restrained as the enigmatic and abstruse Silver, not showing his hand or overplaying it, which seems contrary to the De Niro we’ve seen in recent years. Toby Jones, Elizabeth Olsen and Joely Richardson all crop up in supporting roles and all put in reliable turns as should be expected from these actors.

The look and feel of Red Lights fits well as there’s nothing too showy about it, but there is a certain steeliness. It’s not a film that revels in sunlight nor is it one drowned in darkness, but there's a fascinating depth within the blackness when this is utilised. Essentially I liked how it was shot and lit. There are second half problems however, as it feels like it loses its way a little after a specific halfway point plot decision. Up until this it felt very measured and rational, but something more desperate and slightly chaotic takes hold after and I wish it had stayed on its original track without going in that direction. Also, the ending seemed pretty unsatisfactory at the time, but now I’ve had time to think about it I like it more and more as I can see some interesting logic with it.

I liked Red Lights. The story is interesting and the way it was shot and acted means it coalesces nicely. There is also a degree of intelligence to it which always helps greatly. Despite having some issues with the second half they weren’t enough to ruin the film for me, and the more I think about the ending the more I like it as I see a certain depth. So, Red Lights is a solid drama / thriller that’s worth a watch, and I remain intrigued about Cortés as a director and what he will give us next.

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