Although some found being trapped in a box with Ryan Reynolds for 90 minutes a bit much, Rodrigo Cortés‘ claustrophobic thriller Buried garnered critical acclaim following its premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. His follow-up film, the paranormal thriller Red Lights, shows much more promise for Cortés’ as a writer and director – even if it fumbles in the third act. Featuring a strong cast and fantastic visuals from cinematographer Xavi Giménez, Red Lights tackles a slew of weighty themes like perception, reason, and faith while remaining firmly grounded in reality. If only it could have stuck the landing. Hit the jump or my full review of Red Lights on Blu-ray.
People claiming to have extrasensory, supernatural powers have been around for centuries. Ancient Greece had the Oracle of Delphi. The Jewish Book of Samuel has the medium of Endor. Today we have loathsome TV mystics who wipe their ass with money. And as long as these people have been around there have been skeptics – rational minds who make it their life’s work to debunk the hocus pocus and reveal the mystics for the greedy frauds they really are.
The skeptics in Red Lights are professor Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her teaching assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy). Together they expose fraudulent mystics with the power of science and plain old common sense. As Matheson explains to one of her university classes, faking a haunting is as easy as lifting a table with your foot or having your little sister slam a door upstairs. These investigations, which make up about the first 40 minutes of the film, are incredibly fun and gripping. Weaver is a joy to watch as the deadpan, condescending scientist Matheson. Cortés wrote the role for her and it shows. Murphy is also great as her headstrong apprentice.
Then Cortés introduces aging celebrity psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro) and everything starts going to hell. Matheson tangled with Silver years before and it psychologically crippled her. Now Buckley wants a shot at debunking him, but Matheson warns him to let this one go. This kind of science against supernatural setup sounds gleefully campy and bulletproof in its entertainment value, but when it comes to blows, Red Lights devolves into a mediocre thriller. What could have been a penetrating commentary on faith versus science turns into a toilet bowl of missed opportunities.
The film features Toby Jones and Elisabeth Olsen in excellent but underused supporting roles – the latter acting as Murphy’s love interest. Not even their strong presence during the film’s home stretch can save it from being utterly disappointing. Cortés may have thought he was throwing in a final bit of misdirection in the climax, but it’s an unsatisfying and downright frustrating “twist.” The climax is the textbook definition of arbitrary – a shame after such a fantastic first half.
Millennium Studios presents Red Lights on Blu-ray in 2.35:1 1080p and in 5.1 Dolby True HD. The film features heavy earth-tones throughout, which are complimented nicely with deep blacks. Extras include an interview with Cortés (5:45), in which he discusses mistrusting our perceptions, and interviews with the cast (11:00). De Niro gives the best interview, talking about his approach to the character of Silver. Then there’s “The Making of Red Lights” (10:30) and “Behind the Scenes” (2:00). The “Making of” is a montage of set footage mixed with interview clips seen in the aforementioned interview features. “Behind the Scenes” is a brief, unnecessary clip of Cortés directing.