JULY 10, 2012
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)
If you look under "Genre" on the IMDb page for Red Lights, they have it listed as a drama first and a horror second, and that’s exactly how you should approach it. While it certainly fits due to its plot about potential supernatural phenomena and surprising abundance of jump scares, anyone going in expecting a full blown horror film will walk away disappointed. However as a character based drama, I think it’s pretty dang good – the horror stuff is just a nice bonus.
Our hero is Cillian Murphy, a physicist who works as an assistant to Sigourney Weaver’s character as they go around investigating potential hauntings and psychic behavior, mostly with the intent of proving them to be frauds, though they're nice enough when they do manage to prove them wrong (sort of like how the guys on Ghost Hunters aren’t trying to be dicks, but as it turns out a lot of folks just have plumbing problems). There’s a lot of fun in watching them poke holes when others try to prove they have concrete evidence of the supernatural or ESP or whatever – I particularly loved when Weaver was able to quickly discern how Toby Jones’ character was able to find so many mind readers in his latest study.
But of course the movie needs an actual plot, and finds one in Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a renowned psychic who is returning to the spotlight after a 30 year absence. He’s sort of Weaver’s Moriarty or Moby Dick – proving him to be a fraud would be the best possible thing for her career. As the film unfolds, we see that perhaps he IS legit, and things escalate from there as Silver makes efforts to keep them from interfering with his shows while also trying to prove to the scientific world that he is indeed a psychic.
As you can tell, it’s an unusual plot for a film – I racked my brain and couldn’t really think of another like it. The best I could describe it would be a cross between a Giallo and an investigative movie like State of Play or All The President’s Men, with a bit of the cat and mouse suspense of something like The Prestige. So, yeah – a little off the beaten path. I’m fairly confident that’s why I enjoyed it, in fact – even if I wasn’t watching it for HMAD, I still see a lot of movies that are cut from the same cloth as dozens of others, even outside the genre.
It also helps that it has a great cast. Weaver is always a pro, no surprise there, but it’s great to see De Niro putting some effort into things again after years of half-assed turns in studio junk like the Fockers movies. Murphy is always interesting to watch, and he has fine chemistry with Elizabeth Olsen, a student of Weaver’s who joins them on some of their assignments and eventually becomes his lover. I don’t know why it took so long for her to start appearing in anything besides her sisters’ G rated fare, but I’m all for her seeming omnipresence of late (this is her third movie in less than 6 months!), as she is beautiful and effortlessly charming. Her role here is a bit thankless, but she gives it a lot of life that another actress wouldn’t be able to find.
There are a few twists in the film, and I’d like to avoid discussing them in detail (I’d recommend knowing almost nothing before going in, actually). However, I do wish that the two at the end were revealed closer together in order to have a better impact. We learn something about one character, and then there’s a delay before getting down to the other reveal, but by then it’s kind of obvious so it feels like you’re waiting for the movie to catch up when it should have been a direct one-two smack. The movie does run long (113 minutes), so if the climax were a bit reworked (and thus shortened) I think the movie would have been even better.
I also didn’t get the thing about the salt? Once you’ve seen the movie, if you can explain via comments that’d be great. I know from Supernatural and such what it’s supposed to do, but it doesn’t make sense in the context presented, unless I missed something.
It’s also a fine showcase for Rodrigo Cortes, who previously impressed with Buried. No longer confined to one actor/location, he does an admirable job of faking Barcelona and Toronto for the US, and makes most of the scares work even when they’re a bit hokey (lots of dead birds in this one). I was also pleased to see that it was shot (and projected!) on 35mm film instead of some inferior digital format, which more than made up for the uncomfortable screening room (awkwardly designed seats AND the air conditioning was broken). The film is opening in limited release this weekend; do your best to find it showing in 35mm for the ideal presentation.
It won’t be for everyone, and again it’s not a horror movie in the traditional sense, but apart from the occasional pacing issues I found a lot to enjoy here, and am further convinced Cortes will be one to keep an eye on in the future. The movie never picks a side with regards to the existence of psychic abilities and the like, so whether you’re a believer or a skeptic there’s plenty here to entertain you. Recommended!
What say you?