Published Aug 09, 2012There are many would-be virtuoso film-making moments in Rodrigo Cortés's Red Lights, an overwrought yarn about two sceptical physicists who specialize in proving the existence of fraud in suspected cases of paranormal events.
The film is full of handheld, long takes and quickly edited moments in which random electronic equipment explodes, birds fly into windows or both at the same time. Cortés appears to be one of those filmmakers, like Darren Aronofsky (or, hell, Powell and Pressburger), that believes the correct editing, music and cinematography can be combined to create a pure visceral moment of cinema.
It's too bad that most of the big moments in Red Lights are utter failures. Whereas Natalie Portman's final dance in Black Swan felt like a sucker punch to the gut, most of the attempts at "pure cinema" in this film, which often consist of hand-held cameras following Cillian Murphy as crazy supernatural things happen, feel like the irritating prods of a small child who wants to show you something interesting.
Perhaps it's because of the drizzly, low-contrast photography that puts the whole movie to sleep, maybe it's because of Victor Reyes's uninspiring score, or perhaps it's because Cortés doesn't have the goods to mix these elements together successfully. Whatever the case, it just doesn't work.
That these moments of genuine suspense fail is lethal to the enjoyment of the movie, the rest of which moves along in an entirely unoriginal direction, following two academic physicists (Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy) who act as a kind of Mythbusters team for famous psychics, finding ways to prove fraud with their limited faculty budgets.
Robert DeNiro phones in a performance as Simon Silver, a blind psychic with a formidable celebrity status who seems to be either taunting Tom Buckley (Murphy's character) or warning him not to get involved via his paranormal prowess (hence all the birds flying into windows), while Elizabeth Olsen has the thankless task of playing Buckley's do-nothing love interest.
Red Lights cops the same basic structure as The Last Exorcism from a couple years ago, but it's less successful. In both works, people with the expertise to debunk fraudulent supernatural claims find themselves in a situation they can't explain. In both, a sceptical approach to the supernatural is taken seriously, affirmed, questioned, re-affirmed and so on and so forth until a big, eye-roll-inducing twist at the end.
There's very little doubt in The Exorcist that young Regan is possessed, but it didn't stop the film from being great, and it also allowed for some of the virtuoso moments that Cortés is so obviously aiming for in this film. Would it be acceptable with everyone if Hollywood gave up the weak attempts at topical pretence and just got on with making movies? (Alliance)