Rodrigo Cortes bought us one of the most tightly-wound thrillers of the last few years with the excellent ”Buried”. With a brilliant lead in Ryan Reynolds, he built a very credible world without ever leaving a single (tiny) location.
There’s a moment in his next film, ”Red Lights”, where two characters are talking in a car. When the scene’s over, the camera pans backwards towards the back of the car and there’s the sound effect of the car accelerating.
It’s fair enough as indications that the scene is over go, but it’s dreadfully, almost unforgivably clunky as a staging device, and it’s just one example about how Cortes seems much less comfortable outside the box in the real world of roads, buildings and other places where people move about.
None of which is to say Red Lights is a bad film, it’s just not as sharp as you want it to be – certainly not as commanding as Buried was.
Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy play paranormal investigators Margaret and Tom, the former a famed supernatural phenomena debunker, the latter her young and gifted protégé, a man whose brilliance could have seen him in a lucrative academic career but who’s hitched his wagon to the smart, underfunded Margaret.
After some establishing story about their methods, credentials and relationship, we get to the heart of the plot. After 30 years in self-imposed exile, famous blind psychic Simon Silver (De Niro) resurfaces to play a few shows that will doubtless earn him millions and re-establish his former popularity.
Tom sees it as their big chance. Busting Silver will get them the attention they deserve, but Margaret tells him to leave well enough alone, revealing that Silver is her old nemesis and that another crusading investigator died while trying to prove him a fraud.
There’s a shocking even you don’t see coming halfway through that leaves Tom to pursue his agenda against Silver, and Cortes’ scary, moody atmosphere comes to the forefront as birds mysteriously crash into windows of darkened rooms and sudden crashes ring out loud enough to make you jump in your seat. Billed as a psychological thriller, it’s a dark (literally) movie with horror aspirations.
Like he has done for the last decade or more, De Niro doesn’t have to do much but stand there and do his thing. Weaver is assured and stately as always, but it’s left to Murphy to carry most of the film. He’s proven a capable lead many times before, but he takes the metaphor of a man lost without his mentor a bit far, seeming at times uncomfortable to be there.
There’s enough to it to get you thinking about the truth behind things that go bump in the night, and just when Cortes seems to have built up a very decisive case one way or the other, he throws it all out in a showy climax that feels forced.