‘Red Lights’ disappontingly contrived and empty

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Red Lights

Directed by Rodrigo Cortés

Written by Rodrigo Cortés

USA, 2012

In 2010, writer and director Rodrigo Cortés made a splash with his film Buried, a low concept, low budget, but extremely well executed thriller of a picture. Two years later, he unfortunately offers up an endeavor that’s the exact polar opposite.

With a more ambitious script, more characters, and a loftier metaphysical conviction, Cortés, in his new film, looks to establish himself as both an economical and ambitious filmmaker. Frustratingly incoherent, convoluted, and ultimately pointless, his parapsychological thriller, Red Lights, may just prove to be an embarrassment of riches for Cortés.

The film centers on Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), a physicist working under the tutelage of Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver), a veteran researcher and professor on the paranormal. Together, they go around fielding, investigating, and debunking claims of phenomenon outside the scope of normal or orthodox scientific understanding.

After a slew of eventful false alarms, the intrepid duo is presented with a rather daunting appraisal when Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a blind, yet unrivaled, virtuoso in the realm of the extramundane, resurfaces from his long, self-imposed hiatus from the spotlight. A once formidable adversary, Matheson is hesitant to undertake such an investigation again.

Determined to discredit Silver, however, Buckley elicits the help of two college students (Elizabeth Olson and Craig Roberts) in his fastidious attempt at exposing the alleged charlatan, but as he delves deeper into the world of Silver, Buckley finds himself vulnerable to situations that may just make him reevaluate his own beliefs.

While watching Red Lights, once can’t help but garner a stronger appreciation for the craft of Christopher Nolan. Although an underappreciated member of his anthology of previous works, his similarly themed The Prestige tackles many of the same themes and questions as Red Lights. But where Nolan succeeds in making a well-woven, meticulously detailed thriller with a surprising, yet entirely premeditated ending, Cortés doesn’t do nearly as well in his film.

For the most part, Red Lights is incredibly languid in pacing, often due to the directionless approach to the story and the haphazard editing. As well as being inundated with bombastic dialogue and ruminations about high-sounding concepts with very little meaning, it’s not long before the film becomes an unwatchable mess that will test your patience. We end up watching the story unfold because we have to, not because we want to. The seemingly inert affair is punctuated by people raising their voices, but not in any immediacy or urgency towards the narrative.

All of the characters are conspicuously one-dimensional, and not even the collective efforts of its stellar cast can bring much nuance or interest to their stories (no, not even De Niro).

But worst of all is the ending. Throughout its duration, the film routinely switches between team ‘magic is real’ and team ‘magic is hokum’. As we start off, we are firmly on the side of the latter, but as it slowly moves along it takes the position of the former. From there, it goes to and fro.

But as we get to the last reel of the film, we are suddenly given a definitive answer to whether or not Silver has any real superpowers, and everything seems resolved. But it isn’t. The film pulls off a capricious deus ex machina type ending that, yet again, throws us in an ideological loop that doesn’t make much sense and is entirely arbitrary.

This is perfectly characteristic of Red Lights. With so much resource and promise, Cortés, unfortunately, ends up making a film that is altogether sloppy, insular, contrived, and empty.

Justin Li

2 Comments
  1. jane gordon says

    It’s true that RL is not a highly polished film from a seasoned and sophisticated director. It’s also true that the film is a bit disjointed and has a number of moments of incredulity. However, this is one of those films that gets under your skin, makes you think and ultimately (for me anyway) touches you quite deeply. It’s something about it’s immediacy, energy and willingness to be contradictory. It’s also a love story and touches on human vulnerability and self deception. Inception on the other hand (as we’re on the subject) was a highly polished film with a very intricate concept and beautiful filming. The only bit in that though that kept me awake was the human element between Cillian and Pete P.Too clever for its own good perhaps. Ultimately a rather empty film.

  2. Max says

    What a pointelss and plain review. It is also very unfair but reading that kind of text is a total waste of time.

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