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.”