Sunday, 23 September 2012

Red Lights, dir. Rodrigo Cortés, wr. Rodrigo Cortés, Adrián Guera, st. Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Joely Richardson, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones

There's more than a touch of Louis Cyphre in Robert De Niro's restrained portrayal of psychic Simon Silver, and indeed in the way Red Lights is put together as a whole. Cortés is clearly channeling Alan Parker's disembodied, hallucinatory narrative style put to such effective use in Angel Heart, even if the result is a little more staid than its inspiration. The film has Silver, once an acclaimed showman in ESP, returning from self-exile and once more into the public eye for a series of bow-out shows. Weaver and Murphy play Matheson, a university academic researching the paranormal, and her physics academic Buckley, a sort of Scully and Scully, right down to Buckley's I Want To Understand poster on the wall in his lab, a riff on Mulder's mantra. Together they travel from case to case, debunking as they go, but despite fierce warnings from his mentor, Buckley finds the enigmatic Silver an attractive target for his extra-curricular curiosities. There's a nagging suspicion, and then acceptance, that Red Lights ends up being less than the sum of its parts, and that the ideas within never quite adhere in the way they should. That said, it's also an engaging, eerie and pacy watch. Yes, it's derivative in the way a slew of directors from Lynch, to Argento to Cronenberg are stylistically name-checked, and there's even a distinct evocation of Sidney J. Furie's The Entity in the way the Buckley's university set up experiments on the compliant Silver in order to test his alleged powers. But bar a succinct and low-key voice-over at the film's end that serves as the final emotional, cerebral and existential clarification of the film's thematic threads, there's little in the way of the over-cooked earnestness present in so many films in which a protagonist is undone by spiralling obsession; Buckley is simply a man who refuses to have faith for the sake of it, and is driven to unearth what he sees as obvious subterfuge. There is nothing wrong in films like these playing like extended Fringe, or Twilight Zone episodes, for they're a well-formed, contained, and concise method of cinematic storytelling.