Tuesday, 26 June 2012
(Rodrigo Cortés, 2012) There's something appealingly redolent of 1970s filmmaking about Cortés' Red Lights. It is determinedly downbeat and mostly done in a minor key, for one thing, insistent on it's own atmosphere, which is wintery, rainy, full of blurred, grim backgrounds and sad, broken characters. The sustained tone of quiet menace and off-key dislocation grows as the film proceeds to a big, climactic revelation which is no great surprise to a viewer schooled in the M Night Shyamalan brand of paranormal thriller. It is mostly a success, spinning a couple of genuinely tense sequences from it's premise. It follows paranormal debunkers from an American University, Doctors Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Buckley (Cillian Murphy) in the run-up to the great comeback of America's most famous Psychic, the mysterious blind showman Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro) who reads minds, bends spoons and cures the sick onstage. Along the way they expose a few other frauds and hoaxes and Buckley begins a relationship with student Sally (Elisabeth Olsen), while rival Doctor Shackleton (Toby Jones) strives to prove that such phenomena are real. Cortés writes, edits and directs, and his talent is obvious. His film is always good to look at, depends on mood and a couple of old-fashioned edge of the frame occurrences and shock cuts for its big scares, and always feels solidly, earthily textured, from the car Buckley drives Matheson around in to Silver's creepy appointment room in an anonymous building. The narrative is less successful; losing steam midway when it should really be amping up, it is a little too familiar in the way it sets up then delivers jolts and in its plot trajectory toward final showdown and twist. But a strong cast helps make it absorbing; Weaver effortlessly suggests the baggage and anger driving her search for truth, DeNiro gets by on his presence and easy ability to intimidate, and Olsson (in quite a thankless "girlfriend" part) and Jones lend it some more class. But Murphy is the standout, his disturbingly piercing eyes and exhausted, occasionally manic presence compelling us to keep watching as he gets deeper and deeper.