Red Lights (2012) Movie Review

Red Lights (2012) film summary

Title: Red Lights
Year: 2012
Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Horror
Play time: 1h 54min
Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Starring: Craig Armstrong, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver

Heavily Stylized Mistery from Rodrigo Cortes: Red Lights (2012)

I confess to not knowing quite what to make of Rodrigo Cortes’ Red Lights, a sprawling, heavily stylized mystery about a pair of paranormal debunkers (Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver) investigating a world-famous psychic and mentalist (Robert De Niro) who has emerged from retirement for one last blow-out showcase. It’s deranged and absurd, and it’s probably nonsense. Cortes, who also wrote the screenplay, clearly intended some sort of meditation on rationality vs. faith, but I can’t make the case that it’s cogent, or that it has anything compelling to say. It is, however, riveting for every last second of its considerable running time. Along with Buried, Cortes’ debut feature set entirely inside a coffin, Red Lights introduces an ambitious and daring new voice.

Investigating the Paranormal

Cortes constructs a convincing alternate universe where large American universities host dueling academic departments that investigate the paranormal, and where old-school mentalists and healers pack large theaters to deliver revival-tent-style harangues. Weaver and Murphy fight the good fight, exposing frauds and teaching the tricks of the trade to a class of eager undergraduates who ask questions like, “So you’re saying there’s no such thing as paranormal phenomena?” The first half hour is wry and a little humorous (the opening line of dialogue is one of the most delightfully odd film-making choices I’ve seen recently), but that doesn’t last: as De Niro’s legendary charlatan (or is he?) comes to increasing prominence, it becomes clear that something legitimately sinister has its eye on our heroes.

Red Lights – The Film has Great Atmosphere & Tone

The title refers to an investigator’s tool: “red lights” are “discordant notes,” small hints that something is amiss or out of place. Red Lights is all red lights. Murphy’s hotshot young scientist ultimately emerges as the protagonist, and the film becomes increasingly subjective and unhinged as it becomes clear through an accumulation of details large and small that something has gone terribly wrong, though we’re not sure quite what it is. There are set pieces here that play like the love children of Richard Kelly and David Lynch, and it’s been a while since I’ve been this profoundly uneasy in a theater. I have my doubts about the plotting, and the much-talked-about climactic left turn, but the film is a tour de force of mood, atmosphere, and tone. If you care at all about intelligent genre cinema that doesn’t paint by numbers, you’ve got to buy a ticket to Red Lights, warts and all.

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