Director Rodrigo Cortés compares watching his new paranormal thriller Red Lights to taking in a magic show.
“In the beginning you feel comfortable when you see the magician moving his hands,” he says. “You know what’s happening; you know where the card is. Then little-by-little things become harder and you don’t know exactly where he hid the card, so you look closer. From that moment on you start not trusting him until you have the final revelation of the magic trick.”
The film is an exploration of “where our beliefs come from,” he says, “which I find fascinating. It’s about human nature and contradiction and ambivalence.”
It was that magical complexity that drew star Cillian Murphy to the story of two paranormal debunkers and their greatest challenge, psychokinetic superstar Simon Silver (Robert De Niro).
“I enjoy doing films that are intelligent or presuppose that the audience is intelligent,” the Dark Knight star says.
Murphy, who became an atheist after researching his role as a nuclear physicist for the sci fi film Sunshine—“That was a powerful time for me,” he says.”—adds the experience of immersing himself into Cortés’s preternatural story didn’t change his world-view.
“There is a thematic crossover occasionally between the two films,” he says, “but my position has remained the same since [Sunshine]. This movie hasn’t changed that in any way.
“We have to be, as actors, open, blank canvases and not transpose our beliefs or morals or lack of them on a character.”
Despite having previously explored philosophical themes on screen in movies like Inception and In Time the Irish born actor says he doesn’t go out of his way to find scripts that contain metaphysical motifs.
“I have no plan or strategy,” he says. “When a script comes in, if it’s good, great. If it’s not good, I don’t do it. That is how I have tried to operate. I try and not repeat myself and always have a challenge.
“I’ve had a lot of questions regarding a thread between various roles or various types of films and it’s entirely random. I’ve never met any actor who’s had a plan or a strategy. ‘In five years time I’m going to have done this and this and worked with this guy.’ You can’t do it.”
He not only looks to challenge himself, but the audience as well. The beauty of the film,” he says, “is that confounds your expectations.”
“Red Lights,” a new paranormal thriller starring Signorney Weaver, Robert DeNiro and Cillian Murphy, is review proof. I saw this because I can’t tell you the plot twist that pushes this movie from the realm of the ridiculous into the land of the ludicrous without spoiling the whole premise.
Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver, who knows a thing or two about ghostbusting) and Dr. Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are college professors who specialize in debunking psychic phenomenon. Faith healers are sent to prison and séances are demystified but their orderly, science based world is turned upside down when celebrity psychic Simon Silver (Robert DeNiro) comes out of retirement. Imagine Uri Gellar with dark side and you get the picture. Silver was a huge star in the 70s but retired when it was suggested his powers caused a massive heart that killed one of his harshest critics. Matheson wants nothing to do with Silver but Buckley becomes obsessed with getting to the truth of the matter and discovering, once and for all, if Silver has extraordinary powers or is simply a talented magician who takes advantage of the gullible.
“Red Lights” doesn’t make much sense. Writer/director Rodrigo Cortés tries to play both sides of the psychic debate, simultaneously debunking and supporting the idea of extrasensory ability to an extent where the film loses any point of view it might have had. Straddling the fence on the subject at the heart of the story only serves to impale the tale on a mushy middle fence post, nullifying the story’s power.
You’ll only notice the wishy-washy statement of purpose, however, if you can get past the uneven performances. Murphy, a talented actor who delivered a powerhouse performance in “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” flounders here. His off-balance performance simmers one second and boils the next. It’s strange, (and largely ineffective), work, which I suppose, was meant to add to the otherworldly feel of the film but instead only seems as nonsensical as the story.
Weaver and Elzabeth Olsen emerge largely unscathed because their roles are underwritten and underplayed, but DeNiro has the opposite problem. Theatrical and pretentious, the only uncanny thing about his portrayal of psychic Silver is that he took the role at all.
With its reliance on old-school narrative tricks—explaining the story through news broadcasts—and a muddy point-of-view “Red Lights” is a movie that is as confounding as the subject it portrays.