Posted on Saturday, January 21st, 2012 by Peter Sciretta
Rodrigo Cortés made a name for himself with a film that premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival: Buried, based on Chris Sparling’s black list script about a man buried alive who has to figure a way out of his coffin before his air supply is used up. The film starred Ryan Reynolds, and was critically praised for it’s direction, a tough task considering the 95-minute film takes place completely inside a casket.
Cortés returns to Sundance two years later with the $15 million thriller Red Lights, which he also wrote. The story follows Psychologist Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) as they study and disprove paranormal activity, parascience and psychics. But can they take down world-renowned psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), who has come out of retirement after three decades?
This is a 21st century Ghostbusters. What if Venkman, Stantz and Spengler never got fired from their parapsychology professor jobs? What if they took their research seriously and mounted a serious fight against the world of paranormal scams (a la skeptics James Randi and Penn Jillette), busting “ghosts” through scientific research. Or you might even be ale to think of it as a Ghostbusters spin-off — what if Dana Barrett (Weaver’s character in GB) left the company of the Ghostbusters and became a skeptic?
Red Lights has great fun building your expectations with sound science and skeptic-based theories, and later playing with these ideas, making you question if extrasensory perception might be possible (if only in this movie). The film also sets up a few great scares and jumps, which had the Eccles theatre screaming.
In addition to the primary cast, 2011 Sundance “it girl” Elizabeth Olsen plays a role, and Toby Jones also has a supporting part in the film. Both actors, however, are almost completely unnecessary to the film’s plot.
Can a possibly horrible ending ruin a otherwise entertaining film? That is the question with Red Lights. The last third of the film becomes something much different than what the first two acts lead one to expect. The end features a twist that is confusing and might not fit logically. I’m sure the film might draw comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige or Alex Proyas’ Knowing. Unfortunately, Red Lights isn’t as well plotted and intricate as Prestige and lacks the explainable, interesting, yet ridiculous twist of Knowing. (And no, Red Lights has nothing to do with god or aliens).
I’m not convinced that everyone will hate the ending. I’m not even sure I hated the ending. 24 hours later, I’m still not sure what to think about it. But think about it I have. During the question and answer session which followed the screening, one audience member had the balls to ask Cortés to explain what exactly happened during the film’s conclusion. Rodrigo responded that he would rather us interoperate the film for ourselves and come up with our own answers. His hope was that the film would create discussion.
I spent over an hour discussing the ending with other bloggers who saw the film. We were able to come to some conclusions, but various points have no explained (or sometimes logical) answer.
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