After making an impression with his claustrophobic directorial debut Buried (2010), writer and director Rodrigo Cortés returns to cinema screens with ex-Sundance entry Red Light (2012): a psychological thriller that explores the blurry line between scientific validation and those supernatural occurrences that cannot be vindicated.
Parapsychologists Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) spend their lives travelling around the country refuting claims of the supernatural and ridiculing those phony psychics who frequently work against the law to fool unsuspecting members of the public. However, when acclaimed psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) re-emerges from hiding, a figure whose powers are seemingly foolproof, Margaret and Tom must step-up their powers in their efforts to reveal Silver’s true identity.
Regardless of its fairly accustomed premise, Cortés does his best to attach some authenticity to Red Lights through his perpetual use of scientific terminology, a welcomed critique of those defrauders who use their ‘skill’ purely for evil and the reasons behind Margaret and Tom’s determined motives. His efforts are bold, particularly well represented through his desire to dispel similarities Red Lights may bare to those more conventional horror house films – something achieved near the beginning of one of duo’s engagements.
Regrettably, yet through no fault than his own, Cortés’ narrative is too disjointed to live up to his immeasurable ambition and provide not only a film that melds a wide range of ideas and suppositions, but also one that offers up a critique on society’s adherence to fake claims of the supernatural. Where he attempts to infuse a welcomed level of wit and cynicism to proceedings, Red Lights major downfall is the fact it takes itself far too seriously so that when the ending comes, it feels almost entirely dishonest to what’s come before.
Furthering its on and off accomplishments, and supplying Red Lights with its strongest victory, are the steadfast performances delivered by its central cast. Murphy is analytical and ruthless as Tom, but with enough hesitation to imply there may be more to him than meets the eye, while De Niro, though limited in screen time, is as unnerving as ever in his portrayal of the equivocal Silver. It’s Weaver, though, as the impassive, unyielding and inherently witty Margaret – driven to her station through devastating circumstances and a craving to keep her speculation at bay – who steals every scene she’s in.
Whether the discontinuous final product is what Cortés was hoping Red Lights would be is an unanswerable question, though its clear his intentions are commendable, evident not only considering his attention-to-detail, but also thanks to his tactical ability to evoke tension through camera techniques and use of score. His hardened approach nor thankless roles for worthwhile talent – Elizabeth Olsen and Craig Roberts both deserve more than their respective characters are awarded – won’t do him any favours, but he’s clearly a filmmaker to keep an eye on, and Red Lights makes for a fairly decent thriller.