Red Lights

Red Lights

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Robert Cortés made a virtue of economy with his Sundance late-night hit Buried - confining his single protagonist to a box for the entire runtime to tense effect. Perhaps these previous restrictions are one of the reasons that his second feature, Red Lights, ultimately suffers from excess in almost every department. Given a broader canvas, Cortés is intent upon painting right up to the edges to such an extent that his ideas start to slop all over the place and things get messy.

Some of the tension of Buried, however, is certainly recalled in the impressive opening act, where we are introduced to scientific sleuths Tom (Cillian Murphy) and his boss Dr Matheson (Sigourney Weaver). The pair are psychic debunkers, travelling the States to reveal the very normal underpinnings of what people claim is paranormal. It's an unsettling start, into which we are plunged and left to make our own way - that proves surprisingly gripping and offers a fascinating insight into the bag of tricks used by mediums to convince people of their veracity.


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The scientists' routine is disturbed, however, when it is announced that world-famous clairvoyant Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) is coming out of self-enforced early retirement with the intention of proving once for all that his telepathic skills are for real. To do this, he says he will submit to a series of highly scrutinised lab tests. Silver is an artist on the top of his game, coming with an entourage, a fervent fan base and the stage presence of a top Shakespearean actor. All of which is like a red rag to a bull for Tom, who subscribes to a bigger they come, harder they fall philosophy. Weaver has crossed paths with Silver in a hinted at troubled past and doesn't have the heart for the game but Tom is determined to take matters into his own hands.

From here on in, peculiar and disquieting things start to happen, making Tom - and, of course, us - wonder if Silver may have a sinister side to his skills.

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Despite a carefully controlled opening couple of acts, the narrative begins to fracture and what was initially an interesting conundrum for the viewer becomes a confusing tumble of ideas which never resolve into a coherent conclusion. There's nothing wrong with exploring the notion of doubt but the film feels too much like a runaway train, where even the director doesn't know where it will end up.

The cast keep you with them, thankfully, particularly Murphy, who has a knack of being able to portray an inner frailty in his characters, although Elizabeth Olsen has become such a star since this was shot that you're constantly waiting in vain for something more to happen to her psychic student. When the excesses start, they don't stop - from a sudden and unexpected outbreak of brutal violence to a disatisfying smorgasbord of endings - which after giving the audience too little, give away far too much. Cortés definitely has a skill for tension - he just needs to learn how to better control his moments of release.

Reviewed on: 15 Jun 2012
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Psychic debunkers target a clairvoyant who is determined to prove his talents are for real.
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