With critical, if not commercial, success lingering over Rodrigo Cortés after the release of man-in-coffin thriller Buried, his next foray into film was going to be an interesting one, and with Red Lights, interesting can be as much a negative as it is a positive.
Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy are doctors and lecturers who investigate paranormal activities across the state, if not the country, and prove there is no other world and there’s a logical explanation for everything. That is until Robert DeNiro’s Simon Silver comes out of retirement to present his psychic abilities to sell-out crowds, and they just can’t work out how he does it …
For a film that begins with a seance, Red Lights opts mostly for a drama/thriller vibe than horror, although at times they can’t resist hitting the soundtrack with a loud crash, scream or musical sting, just to wake the audience from a dialogue-infused sleep. Cortés’ script leaps often from dull exposition to silly beats, humourous asides and a setpiece or two to explain all the basic information needed for the final act to make any lick of sense (what this machine does, why Cillian’s character is so blindly focused on taking down Silver, how much threat and danger surrounds him if he does) and it often collapses into itself.
To Red Lights’ credit, after a tough, near-impenetrable opening half-hour, it focuses up nicely and becomes interesting, especially, in the final act. With the help of Murphy (always an asset) and Weaver doing some fine “I’m in this for more than 5 minutes” acting, even De Niro’s mix of subtlety and chewing the scenery can’t detract from the film too far. However, they do often fall under the weight of the script, spouting sentences that might mean something, but are almost entirely irrelevant besides the impact they might have ever so slightly in the final 30 minutes. Cortés certainly proves his worth as a director once more, with more movement, more sets and more choices than Buried, he imparts a lot of style, restrained though it may be, on the film, making it look nice during scenes which are otherwise throw-away.
Red Lights is muddled, messy and veers between stupid and silly, but Cillian Murphy holds the screen well with the final act interesting and entertaining. It’s a shame that there’s a slog of an hour or so prior that really takes some effort to grind into gear. The script, too, at least seems to have some understanding of how silly it can get, if not always. Red Lights boasts an intriguing idea played out to reasonable degrees of success, but perhaps a stronger writer, or more editing, might have made the film work better. As it stands, Cortés second feature is a misfire, but a somewhat admirable one.
UK Release Date: 15th June