Review: Red Lights

(Rodrigo Cortés 2012, Spain/USA)

Following on from 2010’s gimmicky but well-rounded Buried, which saw a panting Ryan Reynolds entombed underground within the confines of a wooden coffin for the entirety of the film’s 95 minute runtime, Rodrgio Cortés moves on to an above ground tale of paranormal intrigue and the quest to unearth psychic abilities, to stickier results.

Out of the box and into the light, where overwrought and weak dialogue (which he himself pens) is foregrounded alongside a recurrent inability to take his ostensible narratives anywhere other than an attention-grabbing point A to a muddled and dilated point B – seen previously with Buried’s sour climax, Cortés conjures together an exciting cast who easily please before becoming somewhat waylaid by the film’s broader and more overreaching tactics. A titillating and promising premise, which sees Sigourney Weaver’s non-believing Margaret Matheson and protégé Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) investigating noted psychics in successful attempts at dismounting their positions as rabble rousing phoneys, excels by effectively positioning the viewer in the same position as the protagonists, appealing to a desire to learn how these so-called illusionists pull off their tricks. This is seen in one of the film’s several refined sequences, where Matheson and Buckley, joined by Tom’s engrossed girlfriend (Elizabeth Olsen), expose a fraudulent would-be telekinetic in the middle of a packed out stage show, tapping into the radio waves his off stage partner uses to feed him choice intelligence of certain audience members. This paves the way for Robert De Niro’s blind, celebrated psychic Simon Silver, previously retired after his main detractor controversially died during a previous show, to announce a return to the stage, inspiring Tom to adopt a yearning to debunk his position as a world famous phenomenon and uncover the reasons why Matheson refuses to examine his supposed powers.

A sinister if underdeveloped presence, De Niro’s Silver is somewhat analogous of the film itself, blindly wading through, undemonstratively, Cortés’s mounds of ideas and inventive set pieces whilst representing an auspicious antagonist and central oddity responsible for some spectacular trickeries that remain mostly unanswered. Stressing his pleasingly imaginative central conceit, Cortés, who also edits the film with clumsy abandon, puts too much stock in the questions his numerous narrative strands – which scarcely gel – pose to the audience, rarely trusting them when the film takes progressively curt lunges in unsuspecting directions. Ploughing the numerously puffy reveals with spoon feeding clip montages of previously hidden visual clues robs them of their credibility and naturalness, lacking a subtlety that is similarly absent within the rest of the film in it attempts at epitomising the fraught, uneasy lines between the existence of psychic phenomena and those out to attest its explicability. As Tom says whilst demonstrating the age-old missing coin trick, magic only works when the audience’s attentions are elsewhere, which is something Cortés visually utilises to ultimately scrambled effect.

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