Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Cast: Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, Jeany Spark, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Eben Young
RunTime: 1 hr 55 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language, Violence and Frightening Scenes)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://cdn.millenniumentertainment.me/films/redlights
Opening Day: 26 July 2012
Synopsis: Two investigators of paranormal hoaxes, the veteran Dr. Margaret Matheson and her young assistant, Tom Buckley, study the most varied metaphysical phenomena with the aim of proving their fraudulent origin. Simon Silver, a legendary blind psychic, reappears after an enigmatic absence of 30 years to become the greatest international challenge for both orthodox science and professional skeptics.Tom starts to develop an intense obsession with Silver, whose magnetism becomes stronger with each new manifestation of inexplicable events. As Tom gets closer to Silver, tension mounts, and his worldview is threatened to its core.
Rodrigo Cortes has done it again. Just so that you know this reviewer's biases, I was deeply impressed with how the Spanish writer-director-editor had deftly crafted what was essentially a one scene, one setting, one actor thriller in Buried which starred Ryan Reynolds. Now, he has expanded that constraint of a story, to embody what would be an entertaining, yet powerful exploration of the paranormal, or the debunking of the paranormal, in ways that the X-Files would be proud of.
And what more when making a film, to have some of the top names attached to it, with the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Toby Jones and Cillian Murphy up on the marquee that splits the camp into the believers of the physic and the paranormal, and those who seek out the truth and expose the fraud utilizing scientific methods of proof and disproof. In some ways it plays out like a basic 101 science lesson, where we get presented with a scenario, and to come up with logical explanations on how certain things got accomplished. And with issues that deal with belief - whether you do, or you don't - trying to persistently stay on one side of the fence means constantly coming up with strategies of proof, and making enemies along the way.
Red Lights follows the journey of scientists Margaret Martheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), who are at the top of their field and the best of the best in investigating the paranormal, and are out there to seek out the truth, which constantly falls short and stays within expectations that purported soothsayers, mediums and the likes are nothing but fraudsters who carry the craft of their trade too far, for monetary gains. They are frequently called upon by law enforcement to look deeper beneath the surface of would be healers, and expose them for the cheats that they are, who are adapt at utilizing technology, and the gullibility of Man to exploit for the rewards of fame and fortune.
Their many small adventures in Red Lights early on set the stage for some bigger fish to come, in the form of Robert De Niro's Simon Silver, being the best of the best of all psychics, who had mysteriously disappeared years ago for being accused of causing the death of his harshest critic, only to reappear recently to take the known world by storm. Tom Buckley is adamant to get their research and investigations going against Simon Silver, only to be warned by Margaret to stay away. What secrets does Simon Silver hold, and the obsession by Tom to investigate him, forms the crux of the narrative, which I have to say is engaging, and fresh in being able to pull the rug from under my feet. It's the sleight of hand turned onto the audience both reel and real, that makes Red Lights a winner.
And that's in addition to having an A-list cast coming together for this project that dares to ask the question of what's real, what isn't, and what's honest, especially in the light of recent scandals whether special abilities are reason enough to sucker the silly, in order to buff one's coffers. Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy share some wonder mentor-mentee relationship, one with experience balanced with the other's recklessness. Robert De Niro, while his screen appearance is relatively short, possesses enough charisma to steal both their limelight each time he's on screen, tackling a more serious role in contrast to his slew of comedies he had dabbled in of late.
Toby Jones joins the cast as Paul Shackleton, fellow scientist in a similar field to Margaret and Tom, but only less bright, and in my opinion pretty dull in skillset, providing some comic relief when he becomes the butt of jokes especially since he can't see pass the obvious. Elizabeth Olsen rounds off the recognizable cast list in a bit role as Tom's love interest, and a promising student of the faculty who unfortunately doesn't get much to do in the film, fading away to the background and becoming quite inconsequential to proceedings.
Sure, this film is not perfect, and is set to polarize just like how the camps in the film are split down the middle into two. There are stretches in the narrative that may not stand up if under intense scrutiny, but it's the way they are presented, just like how each camp maximizes their relative strengths, ignoring obvious exposures just to get their message across, that serves to be most rewarding, both in an entertainment point of view, and as something that warrants and spark further discussion. Cortes also adopted moments of the unconventional with his direction - note that pseudo-documentary style at one point - to keep things moving and to put one into the shoes of eye-witnesses, but it's the final 10 minutes of the film that really made this a winner.
(An intelligent, thrilling exposé of the paranormal frauds)
Review by Stefan Shih