It may have been a while ago, and not that many people saw it, but you may remember Rodrigo Cortes’ brilliantly terrifying debut Buried. Now for his second feature film, Cortes has left the one-man show behind him in favor of a glittering all-star cast in Red Lights. He was much better off with the man in a box.
Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver play paranormal detectives, who basically travel up and down the country exposing people who are pretending to be magicians and psychics. A ‘red light’, Weaver’s character Margaret explains, is a sign that a psychic is in fact a con artist. When Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a blind psychic, comes out of retirement after thirty years for one last series of shows, Tom and Margaret can’t help themselves but take him on. Interestingly (or probably not), Silver’s harshest critic was killed during his last performance thirty years previous. Let the thriller clichés commence!
What’s most disappointing about this is that Red Lights gets off to a great, fun, and intelligent start. Tom and Margaret expose two con artists who both have tricks so well constructed they could have been made into movie plots by themselves. It’s actually when Robert De Niro arrives on the scene that the film takes a sharp turn for the worst, resorting to basic thriller conventions. As we’ve seen with Buried, we know Cortes is better than this. Perhaps the relatively new director didn’t have as much control over the project as he thought he did.
As usual in these cases, the cast are left to carry the film. Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver both do well as the psychic detectives, out trying to figure out very complicated tricks. Think of them as the US cast of Jonathan Creek, only not as funny. Robert De Niro does what he does best, diving into a role with his own unique charisma and gusto. He even manages to keep his cool when he reads one or two rather poor lines of dialogue. “Are you questioning my power?” he bellows from a stage at one point like he’s a pantomime villain. Yes Robert, I believe they are questioning your power. Welcome to the film.
While Red Lights could have saved itself with a satisfactory ending, it instead decides to go down a more horrifying route. Not to give too much away, but the ending involves a twist that requires a montage and some voice overs to recap over what we’ve just seen, The Usual Suspects style. The only problem is, this montage just reminds us of how convoluted and dreary it’s all been. And the ending twist is so unbelievably ridiculous it stinks to high heaven of desperation to try and seem interesting. The cast make this almost bearable, but this could have been so much better considering the talent involved.
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