Sundance 2012: ‘Red Lights’
After my interview with Rodrigo Cortés’ Red Lights executive producer Cindy Cowan, I was eagerly anticipating this world premiere that had an all-star cast including Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Robert DeNiro, Elizabeth Olsen, and Toby Jones. Click through for the review.
Red Lights is a Sundance film with a lot of mystery surrounding it, and likewise, the film itself deals with mysterious phenomena, parapsychology, magic, and the nonbelieving skeptics that battle stubbornly to be acknowledged as the ones that are actually making sense. Tom Buckley (Murphy) and his mentor Dr. Matheson (Weaver) are on the latter side, working at a university teaching psychology (mostly dealing with how our own mind and eyes can be deceivers in their own right) as well as moonlighting as paranormal foils who defraud people that pretend to be something they are not.
As Buckley and Matheson keep fighting their battles as underdogs to the believers, a notorious blind magician named Simon Silver (DeNiro) comes out of retirement after several decades. Buckley becomes obsessed with proving Silver is no more a supernatural being than anybody that pays to see his show, but as he delves deeper into his experiments with supernatural scientist and rival Dr. Shackleton as well as his supportive student Sally (Olsen), he finds himself suddenly dealing with unexplainable phenomena that begin to drive him to the brink of insanity.
Cortés acts as writer, director, and editor for this film, a foray into writing that did not happen with his other Sundance film Buried (premiered in 2009, released in 2010). It takes a very edgy look at what happens when we look outside ourselves to find problems and discrepancies when we should really be looking inside first, but at the Q&A after the screening, Cortés insisted that it is a film that leaves questions and is up for interpretation, one no better than the next.
He is quite right that the film leaves some unanswered questions, and they can be frustrating for someone looking for finality and a definite truth from their moviegoing experience. There are abstract dream sequences and puzzling scenes that leave you wondering what you just saw or heard, and this might not be ideal for a mainstream audience. The ending is especially hard to swallow, with several versions or imaginations that could lead to a number of conclusions.
That being said, the film was completely engrossing, in that it had me on the edge of my seat for most of its duration. Cortés jars you relentlessly, never letting you get comfortable in a world that is filled with deception and danger, whether it be physical or not. The tension is nerve-wracking and inescapable, until Cortés smash cuts with picture and sound when you least expect it. Then you look at the person next to you to see if they saw you jump…
The acting was also impressive, but this wasn’t something I was surprised by. Admittedly, I was doubtful about the prospect of Murphy as a lead, but he got more and more compelling as Buckley as the film went on, portraying a hard-line skeptic that slowly becomes his own worst enemy. DeNiro was mysterious and powerful as Silver; he also displayed some serious intensity that is thankfully still an ace up his sleeve, staying hidden for films like Little Fockers and New Year’s Eve. We see some great emotional range from Weaver as well, playing a tortured Dr. Matheson that is constantly grieving over her comatose son and trying to justify keeping him alive to avoid the after-life she is certain does not exist. Jones and Olsen had smaller roles but were also quite good.
Overall, I found Red Lights intense, intriguing, and even a bit confusing, and the confusion, as Cortés wished, was not unwanted. It truly kept me thinking as I drove home that night. The amount of research that was done about magic, psychology, and parapsychology was extremely evident and also fascinating (try making a table appear to levitate using two hands and one foot). If you’re looking for a dark, unique, and mentally challenging film that demands you to question and not accept, keep an eye out for this in theaters.
By Ethan Mantel
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